Key College Speech Case: Seventh Circuit

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

UPDATE (Aug. 21, 2020): After a panel of judges in the Seventh Circuit ruled that the University of Illinois sufficiently revised its unconstitutional policy, Southeastern Legal Foundation submitted an amici curiae brief asking the court to reconsider its opinion. Time and again, free speech litigants run into a major hurdle: universities often change their bad policies after they are sued. This is a win for free speech—but it is usually only temporary. Universities reinstate bad policies at a later date when they think courts aren’t looking.

The University of Illinois recognized that its anti-bias policy was a bad one, so it changed it. This is great news for current students, but there is nothing to stop the University from imposing the same policy on future students. Litigants need to be able to challenge these policies when they arise, regardless of the actions colleges take after a lawsuit is brought.

SLF joined the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Alliance Defending Freedom to ask the Seventh Circuit to reconsider its opinion and allow the lawsuit against the University bias code to proceed, despite the University’s so-called change of heart.

Click here for SLF amicus brief

CHICAGO, IL (Nov. 1, 2019): Today, Southeastern Legal Foundation filed an amicus brief in a very important case (Speech First v. Killeen) out of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit supporting a group of college students fighting for their First Amendment rights.

The students are members of Speech First, a nonprofit organization that committed to protecting student speech. They came forward to contest the unconstitutional speech codes at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign because they are afraid to discuss issues like Israel, immigration, abortion, the right to bear arms, elections, and our nation’s president because they could be—and have been—reported to administrators for bias or given No Contact Directives.

For example, the University prohibits “bias-motivated” speech, which includes speech about age, race, religion, disability status, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, spirituality, and socioeconomic class. This broad ban encompasses political speech because political discussions almost always turn to topics like race, socioeconomic class, religion, and gender identity.

The University’s Bias Response Team investigates alleged bias incidents. If the Bias Response Team concludes that a student’s speech violated the Student Code of Conduct, that student is subject to discipline including suspension or expulsion. The University can also issue a No Contact Directive, meaning a student cannot engage in any discussion near another student for any reason. There is no way for students to contest these directives. The directives and the bias investigation process are unconstitutional because they are extremely broad and encompass political speech.

Our Founding Fathers intended the First Amendment to protect the right to share political ideas and keep government in check. But because of stifling speech codes at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, students are deterred from discussing politics. This is unconstitutional.

Through its 1A Project, Southeastern Legal Foundation stands by ready to assist college students in the fight every step of the way for constitutional freedom of speech.

Click here for SLF amicus brief

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