Private college denies conservative student group, alleging "hate speech" and "harassment"

Updated: May 20

UPDATE (April 1, 2021): Bethany College has remained silent since receiving SLF's March 12 letter. Today SLF sent a follow up letter reminding the College that there is only one month left in the semester, and that students "need to move forward with preparing future activities and funding requests" as summer approaches.

"The students who want to form a TPUSA chapter must still get signatures from other students before they can go before the final review board to get recognized. This requires tabling, handing out flyers, and talking to peers, but the College is preventing them from even doing that," SLF Attorney Cece O'Leary says. "There are only a few weeks left before the semester ends, and most colleges don't allow students to engage in these activities during finals. So time is really of the essence here."

Read SLF's original letter here.

Read the Campus Reform article here.

BETHANY, WV (March 12, 2021): Despite a West Virginia private college’s written commitment to uphold “free and unfettered discussion . . . which encourages expression of all points of view,” it rejected a student organization application for alleged affiliation with “hate speech” and “harassment.”

At Bethany College, a group of students wanted to form a chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) to engage in conversations about freedom, free markets, and limited government. The College denied their application, reasoning that TPUSA has been “affiliated” with hate speech in the past, and that TPUSA’s Professor Watchlist—which monitors professors pushing radical ideology in the classroom—is a form of “harassment.”

Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) filed a letter on behalf of the students demanding that the College approve the students’ application. The College has committed itself to upholding “free and unfettered discussion of the widest possible nature, one which encourages expression of all points of view.” Clearly, the College has broken its promise to protect its students’ rights.

SLF first pointed out that TPUSA “overwhelmingly” denounces hate speech. But even if the organization did not denounce hate speech, Bethany College has committed itself, through its written policies, to protect the free exchange of all points of view—even the most offensive. “Students can never learn from one another if their speech is censored, monitored, and dictated for them based on paternalistic notions of their mental wellbeing,” SLF stated.

SLF also noted that the TPUSA Professor Watchlist cannot reasonably be considered “harassment.” Citing the U.S. Supreme Court, SLF reminded the College that harassment can only be something “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” that it would make a professor completely unable to teach. The Professor Watchlist is sourced carefully, and it only includes professors who have been featured in credible, published news stories. And, as SLF clarified, “not a single Bethany College professor is on the Watchlist.”

“The College is violating its own written policies, so one of two things must happen,” SLF General Counsel Kim Hermann states. “Either the College must recognize this student chapter, or it needs to remove any policies that commit itself to upholding free expression on campus.”

SLF awaits a response from the College and will continue to monitor the situation on behalf of these students.

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