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Students Sue Indiana University Over “Bias Incident” Reporting System

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Following our recent reporting about the rise of “bias incident” reporting systems on college campuses, threatening free speech, Speech First has filed a lawsuit against Indiana University and several of its officials, challenging the university’s bias incidents policy. The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleges that the policy infringes on students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

We obtained a copy of the lawsuit for you here.

Speech First, a nationwide membership organization dedicated to preserving civil rights and free speech, claims that Indiana University’s “bias incident” policy stifles open discourse and chills protected speech. The policy defines a bias incident as “any conduct, speech, or expression, motivated in whole or in part by bias or prejudice meant to intimidate, demean, mock, degrade, marginalize, or threaten individuals or groups based on that individual or group’s actual or perceived identities.”

According to the complaint, this broad and vague definition allows the university to police a wide range of speech, deterring students from expressing controversial or unpopular opinions. The policy’s enforcement mechanisms include tracking and logging incidents, investigating reports, and potentially referring students for disciplinary action.

Speech First’s lawsuit argues that the bias incidents policy is a content-based and viewpoint-based restriction on speech, which is presumptively unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The plaintiffs assert that the policy’s overbreadth and vagueness violate the constitutional rights of Indiana University students, who fear repercussions for expressing their views on sensitive topics such as gender identity, immigration, and racial issues.

The complaint highlights the experiences of several anonymous students, identified as Students A through E, who refrain from fully expressing their views due to the potential consequences of being reported for bias incidents. These students hold political views that are often in the minority on campus, and they fear that their speech will be labeled as biased, leading to administrative action against them.

The lawsuit references several legal precedents where courts have struck down similar policies at other universities. For instance, Speech First successfully challenged bias response teams at the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, and the University of Central Florida, leading to the disbandment of these teams. In these cases, courts recognized that such policies impose an “objective chill” on speech by implicitly threatening punishment and intimidation.

Speech First argues that Indiana University’s bias incidents policy similarly creates a surveillance state on campus, where students must guard their speech to avoid being reported and investigated. The complaint calls for a declaratory judgment that the policy is unconstitutional and seeks a permanent injunction to prevent its enforcement.

This lawsuit comes at a time when issues of free speech and academic freedom are highly contentious on college campuses across the United States. Surveys have shown that a significant percentage of college students feel unable to express their views without fear of retaliation. At Indiana University, a 2022 campus climate survey revealed that 61% of conservative undergraduates feared speaking up for what they think.

If you’re tired of censorship and dystopian threats against civil liberties, subscribe to Reclaim The Net.

The post Students Sue Indiana University Over “Bias Incident” Reporting System appeared first on Reclaim The Net.

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