Creeley in ‘Huffington Post’: Fed’s New Campus Mandate Silences Sarah Silverman, Salt-n-Pepa, Ciara

May 15, 2013

Joining the voices that have spoken out in recent days against the new federal mandate from the Departments of Justice and Education is FIRE’s Will Creeley, who takes to The Huffington Post for an insightful column.  

Will offers numerous examples of popular, innocuous, and constitutionally protected speech that will be subject to censorship and punishment under the terms of the DOJ/DOE letter: "A Sarah Silverman routine, a classroom discussion of safe-sex practices, a poetry reading, a performance of The Vagina Monologues, a critical analysis of pornographic tropes, a Planned Parenthood presentation — all actionable as sexual harassment, if the wrong person is in within earshot."

Will also discusses the far-reaching consequences the letter will have for students’ campus life:

[I]f anybody on campus can file a sexual harassment claim any time they’re offended by sex-related speech, just about anything will qualify as sexual harassment. This beyond-broad definition means that real instances of truly harassing conduct will be lost among the flood of complaints, as administrative resources and time are wasted investigating and responding to students who are merely offended or uncomfortable. That’s a terrible outcome for those students who are actually suffering real sexual harassment.


Under this exceedingly broad and hopelessly vague definition of sexual harassment, students have two choices when it comes to saying something sexually related: (1) Make sure absolutely everyone in earshot agrees with and feels entirely comfortable with what you’re about to say; or (2) keep your mouth shut. Unfortunately, the rational student will opt for the latter. That’s what First Amendment doctrine refers to as a "chilling effect" on speech, and it’s unacceptable in our liberal democracy.

There’s more analysis in Will’s column, so be sure to add it to your reading list about this significant development.

Cases:  Departments of Education and Justice: National “Blueprint” for Unconstitutional Speech Codes