by Oliver Darcy
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (DOE) are set to force all U.S. colleges and universities to adopt a restrictive and illegal speech code, in an attempt to curb sexual harassment on campuses, a well-respected academic watchdog group is alleging.
The charges, made by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) in a press release, are based on a letter the DOJ and DOE sent jointly to the University of Montana on Thursday, instructing administrators to adopt a broad definition of sexual harassment.
That definition, according to the letter, must include “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” even if an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation” does not deem such contact offensive.
Federal officials describe the new policy in the letter as a “blueprint for colleges and universities across the country.”
FIRE, a non-profit civil rights educational foundation, reacted on Friday by characterizing the mandate as a “shocking affront to the United States Constitution.”
It is a “breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the first amendment,” read the organization’s press release.
Neither the Department of Justice (DOJ), nor the Department of Education (DOE), responded to a request for comment from Campus Reform.
FIRE went on to claim that the new rules could make any student guilty of sexual harassment.
Students would be subject to discipline for “any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person,” including asking an individual out on a date or telling a sexually themed joke according to the FIRE press release.
“I am appalled by this attack on free speech on campus from our own government,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of FIRE.
He added the DOE and DOJ are “ignoring decades of legal decisions, the Constitution, and common sense, and it is time for colleges and the public to push back.”
According to FIRE, this new mandate even contradicts previous guidance provided to colleges and universities by the DOE. The organization says in 2003 the DOE defined harassment as contact that “must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”