Speech First lawsuit creates discrimination debates

judge overseeing discrimination policy

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

The University was ordered to change its anti-discrimination policy but this change could open up a series of problems. Over the summer, the University decided to settle a lawsuit filed against them by a conservative free speech advocacy organization known as Speech First

Both conservative and liberal ideas are subject to becoming even more polarizing on campus and insensitive, unfiltered ideas could further disrupt discourse between diverse groups from different backgrounds. 

The main argument made by the three students who organized the lawsuit was that the former anti-discrimination policy made them afraid to share their self-proclaimed conservative views with other students. 

One student believes that transgender women should not participate in women’s sports, another student believes wage gaps between men and women are natural for a free market economy and another believes that Black Lives Matter’s stances on racial issues are harmful to race relations in America. 

However, one key issue in their argument is that their belief that the policy made them feel afraid to share their views is complete speculation.

Additionally, if these students decided to express their views in a non-derogatory and respectful manner, the University’s previous anti-discrimination policy would not have been enough to punish these students from expressing their views, regardless of them being made in a classroom setting. 

Instead, this lawsuit and more importantly this organization only serves to further push an agenda that is polarizing for intellectual discussion and instead grants power to students to express insensitive opinions. 

For example, in 2016, former Student Body Vice President Rohini Sethi made a controversial Facebook post that supported #AllLivesMatter. 

Just a week earlier, Delrawn Small, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were all fatally shot by police. A renewed spark in addressing police brutality came about as a reaction to these fatal shootings which made Rohini’s post all the more controversial. 

The sanctions imposed on Rohini were not only due to the post’s statement but also due to the insensitive nature of her post. Posting about something controversial during a time of conflict is bound to generate pushback and is not a matter of blocking free speech, but about the need to be mindful when making statements in all forms of speech. 

This new change in the anti-discrimination policy at the University might make students from both sides of the political ideology spectrum defend their political stances more viciously rather than civilly. 

The fear that was instilled into the students who sued the University seems to stem more from their political ideologies rather than from a legitimate fear for their right to free speech. 

The former anti-discrimination policy was clear when students could be punished for being derogatory and not much has changed in the new 2022 policy. 

The term “protected classes” is still used frequently in the new policy, despite this term being a point of contention for the organization and students in their lawsuit against UH. 

Claiming that a policy designed to protect all students against harmful forms of speech, such as slurs and racial stereotyping, is infringing on freedom of speech based simply on the idea of a doctrine used during the lawsuit called the “chilling effect.”

The “chilling effect” has had a history of actually restricting freedoms based on other individuals’ views and implies that passive consequences can count as punishment for free speech.

Instead, it seems like Speech First looks to restrict the consequences that can be placed on students whose opinions specifically target certain groups in a way that is both derogatory and insensitive.

People who share insensitive opinions should face the consequences that come with their opinions instead of avoiding them through a lawsuit. 

JJ Caceres is a political science sophomore who can be reached at [email protected] 

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