Lawsuit: Iowa State U. Muzzles Free Speech

Demand Democracy free speech protest
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Iowa State University is facing a lawsuit over three of its policies that critics say stifle the free speech rights of its students on campus. One of the policies includes the school’s “Campus Climate Reporting System,” which free speech advocates say incentivize students to self censor their political and religious views out of fear of being reported to university administrators.

The university is being sued by the non-profit membership association, Speech First, which seeks to protect students’ First Amendment rights on campus “through advocacy, litigation, and education,” which it says “will put colleges and universities on notice that shutting down unwanted speech will no longer be tolerated,” according to the association’s website.

“Iowa State University maintains a series of policies that have both the purpose and the effect of chilling student speech. One month out from a major political primary, students have been significantly – and unconstitutionally – burdened from participating in the political process,” said President and Founder of Speech First, Nicole Neily in a statement.

The association filed a lawsuit against Iowa State University on Thursday, alleging that three of the school’s policies have enacted “an elaborate investigative and enforcement regime designed to chill speech concerning political and social issues of public concern.”

Speech First added that the three policies in question are “a ban on chalking, a prohibition on student emails related to campaigns and elections, and a Campus Climate Reporting System.”

“The state of Iowa is a major destination for presidential candidates, who are on or near campus on a regular basis,” said Neily. “Many students learn about meet-and-greet events because events have traditionally been promoted through chalking — and by banning these advertisements and emails, students are missing out on major civic participation opportunities.”

Speech First noted that the school’s “Campus Climate Reporting System” incentivizes students to refrain from speaking about their political and religious views, out of fear that they will be anonymously reported to university administrators.

Its inaugural year, the university’s Campus Climate Reporting System had received 110 reports of alleged “bias,” according to Speech First.

The association added that a Freedom of Information Act revealed that political speech — such as support for President Donald Trump, Representative Steve King (R-IA), and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds — is frequently cited in the so-called “bias” reports.

The concept of a “bias” report system is not isolated to one or even a few schools, but has become a popular feature of campuses and universities across the country.

The University of Iowa is not the only school to be challenged over such policies, as many believe that departments dedicated to “bias” reporting have proven themselves to be nothing more than a campus system effectively allowing mostly leftist students to air their grievances about their conservative peers at school.

In November, Speech First filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois, alleging that the school’s “bias response” reporting system forces students to “self-censor.” In October, the University of Michigan announced that it was shutting down its Bias Response Team.

Speech First is requesting that the court declare the University of Iowa’s three policies unconstitutional.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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