No Joke: Clemson Can’t Intimidate Students into Silence, Southeastern Legal Foundation Advises

(Oct. 4, 2022) Clemson, SC: As part of its 1A Project, Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) is challenging Clemson University’s anti-harassment policy. According to the policy, students should report each other to campus administrators whenever they feel offended by a joke. Administrators can then use the full force of their authority to investigate and punish them—up to and including expulsion. As SLF explains in a letter to the University, this contributes to unconstitutional censorship on campus.

SLF also points out in its letter that Clemson advises students not to be “uncooperative” when they are reported for telling a joke. Instead, Clemson tells students to “take responsibility for [their] actions” and show that they have “learned something” to “make the whole process easier.”

“The language Clemson uses is pretty shocking,” SLF General Counsel Kimberly Hermann states. “It makes no secret that it expects students to change their views and apologize for offending their peers. But the Constitution requires universities to welcome the views of all students on campus, even at the risk of offending some.”

Director of SLF’s 1A Project Cece O’Leary explains, “Banning jokes not only violates the First Amendment, but it is also extremely subjective. People can have different opinions about whether something is funny. For that reason, it can’t be up to a few college administrators to decide whether a joke amounts to harassment or not. One thing is sure: censorship is no laughing matter.”

Download press release.

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