Harassment policy lawsuit is part of larger conservative agenda
Recently, it was reported that three conservative students are suing the UH System for its anti-harassment policy. This lawsuit is not about free speech. It’s only part of an agenda masquerading as a grassroots movement.
The students, all anonymous, are working with an organization called Speech First which claims it wants to protect free speech on college campuses.
The lawsuit claims the policy, which bans slurs and negative stereotyping, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The students feel as though they can’t express their views without facing pushback.
While these students may face pushback from other students for these views, expressing their beliefs against gender-neutral pronouns and undocumented immigration doesn’t count as harassment under the University’s policy. The policy says harassment is when it’s “unlawful severe, pervasive or persistent treatment.”
Simply stating a controversial opinion is not harassment. That said, if you keep persistently telling a transgender classmate that you don’t respect them or continue telling a DREAMer you dislike undocumented immigration, that’s when it starts to become harassment.
The students in this lawsuit are not the biggest issue. The real problem is Speech First, the organization behind them.
Speech First claims to protect student speech on campus. The organization fights to ban investigations into harassment against minorities at several universities.
It has sued the University of Michigan for its “Bias Response Teams” which dealt with claims of discrimination on camps such as “Make America White Again” pamphlets being passed around campus and white supremacist graffiti about securing the future of the white race.
It also sued UT Austin where it represented students who had not been punished for anything they’ve said, only that their conservative views make them vulnerable to being punished by the harassment policy.
It’s been in legal battles with many universities, targeting harassment policies, bias response teams and more.
One important aspect of Speech First is how frames itself as grassroots. It claims that it’s made up of students, parents faculty, alumni and concerned citizens from all over the country.
Despite this framing of a grassroots organization, founder and president Nicole Neily has admitted that no students were involved in the founding of the organization. In fact, its board is full of Bush administration lawyers and people associated with the Koch family.
The higher-ups have ties to several conservative organizations like Independent Women’s Forum and the Heritage Foundation.
Most of Speech First’s funding comes from undisclosed donors, Neily said. Its five-dollar student membership fees make up a small fraction of it.
Speech First has only focused on conservative students demonstrating that agenda. This is very deliberate as there are plenty of instances of censorship against left-wing views at universities. In fact, most faculty terminations based on political speech were against left-wing professors.
However, Speech First’s focus on conservative speech isn’t even the main issue, which is that it entertains some strange ideas in the name of free speech.
In one article on its website, a conservative student claims “to require that all speech be backed up with facts does not allow for the free flow of thoughts and ideas.” This was in response to an argument about how the press shouldn’t present ideas not based on facts.
With all the concern about misinformation in the press these days, even concern from conservatives, this is a strange thing to focus on. Another problem with its agenda is that Speech First typically backs students that haven’t even been punished by the harassment policies they fight against.
The lawsuits are often based on hypotheticals and on the students’ feelings, rather than the supposed harm of anti-harassment policies, such is the case with the lawsuit against UH.
A student feeling uncomfortable sharing their opinion doesn’t mean that their free speech is limited. Like the article on their website shows, the organization doesn’t necessarily care about facts when it comes to defending speech.
Speech First only cares about conservative speech, whether it’s based on something real or not. This lawsuit against UH is a perfect example of a political agenda under the guise of protecting constitutional rights.
Anna Baker is an English senior who can be reached at [email protected]