Free speech is a basic and fundamental Constitutional right if you live in the United States, but one Illinois college hopes to change that — at least on campus.
This week, First Amendment watchdog and advocacy group Speech First filed suit against the University of Illinois. The suit claims that the school worked to actively suppress conservative voices and to prevent political advocacy on site. The suit also outlined a regime that used a bias reporting system to squash free speech and intimidate students who express opinions outside of the progressive school’s party line.
“On a regular basis, the University of Illinois sends a clear message to students who wish to engage in political and religious speech. There are some views that are welcome and others that are not,” Speech First president Nicole Neily said, speaking to Fox News.
Speech First originated the case in support of conservative students who attend the school. Students who spoke out in support of President Donald Trump, or that expressed conservative views faced charges of bias or offensive speech. This charge is a serious one for students and could result in sanctions ranging from loss of access to college facilities and even expulsion from campus housing.
“Students deserve to be able to express themselves and voice their opinions without fear of investigation or punishment, which is why these policies must be reformed,” Neily continued, speaking about the students Speech First is advocating for.
The Speech First lawsuit presents three problematic practices in place at the University of Illinois; each of these suppresses conservative voices or opinions that don’t align with the majority’s progressive ideals:
- A bias response team, that takes action after “bias or hate speech” is reported
- “No contact directives” which block students from voicing opinions or speaking up – basically a restraining order against free speech and discourse.
- Restrictions on posting political flyers and messages.
Each of these actions would trigger disciplinary action from the school. Students fearing reprisals were effectively silenced, in fear of sanctions or expulsion.
This is not the first time that a public college has violated the free speech rights of students. Most have used anti-harassment policies and sanctions for “hate speech” to silence dissenting voices on campus. The problem is not with the policies face value or stated purpose; the issue is that these policies are enforced with politics in mind and used as a weapon against conservative students who speak out. A student mentioning that they supported or voted for President Trump could find themselves defending their position in front of a bias committee made up of progressive faculty and students. They would then be punished in a variety of ways – some that interrupted their ability to attend school or function on campus.
According to Speech First, policies like these target and punish conservative students far more than their progressive counterparts. This lawsuit highlights the abuse of sweeping University rules that are unfairly applied to only one set of students. Those students are then effectively silenced in fear of official actions that could result in expulsion.
The University of Illinois has yet to comment on the lawsuit or on the potential effect on conservatives on campus.