A new lawsuit before the Supreme Court could set the precedent on whether or not various “speech police” efforts on college campuses are constitutional.
As the Daily Caller reports, numerous so-called “bias response teams” have been created at colleges across the country, serving the purpose of monitoring speech on campus for any “offensive” remarks, and subsequently taking action against those who make such remarks. These efforts overwhelmingly and disproportionately impact conservative students rather than left-wing students, with the latter often being the ones to report the former to campus authorities.
Now, an amicus brief has been filed before the Supreme Court by the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, a coalition of over a dozen pro-free speech groups focused on higher education. The brief was filed in support of the group Speech First, which has filed a lawsuit against Virginia Tech over its own bias response team.
“In history, it’s always repressive regimes that pick a scapegoat and sometimes not even with aforethought. It just happens they rile up the crowds against them. And that’s what these bias systems are used for,” said Chuck Davis, president of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance.
“The goal of these teams is censorship,” said Zach Greenberg, a spokesman for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), formerly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “These bias response teams have been used to report on group chats and even by third parties walking by on campus.”
In the most recent ruling on Speech First’s lawsuit against Virginia Tech, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals declared that the university’s bias response team was not unconstitutional, as the entity itself did not actually punish students. However, such offices can often make references to more decisive authorities at the university, who can subsequently issue punishments for speech.
“Being investigated is the punishment,” said Eric Rasmusen, a former economics professor at UCLA and member of the MIT Free Speech Alliance.