(Official Washington Examiner editorial, July 11)   The Supreme Court soon will be asked yet again to teach college administrators that they may not deny the First Amendment freedom of speech to students who voice unpopular opinions. The justices ought to accept the petition, with alacrity.

Plaintiffs are preparing to ask the court to overturn an awful May 31 decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Speech First, Inc. v. Sands. The petitioners say, with overwhelming justification, that a system using a “bias-response team” at Virginia Tech is an unconstitutional effort to deter speech the university dislikes. The effect of this team is especially onerous in conjunction with a policy that prohibits students from distributing leaflets or gathering signatures for petitions except at tables manned by staff from organizations recognized by the university.

Three other circuit courts of appeal have already ruled that bias-response teams at other universities are unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit, in a 2-1 split decision, is the outlier.

A bias-response team kicks into action any time any anonymous person complains that any speech by a student in class debate, in private, in off-campus discussions, or on social media are “expressions against a person or group” based on any of 13 issues, from race and religion to political affiliations. If someone says, “I don’t like Democrats,” someone else can report it as a “bias incident.”

A male student fell foul of a bias team because he said female students in a snowball fight were “not athletic.” Another told a joke about a former men’s Olympic decathlon champion, referring to Bruce Jenner rather than Caitlyn Jenner, which is the athlete’s new name.

The university argues its goal is merely to promote civility and that the bias-response team itself imposes no punishment but merely investigates and then refers abuses to other entities for punishment or various forms of what amount to public shaming. The dean of students also keeps a record of all complaints…. [The full editorial is at this link.]


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