Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

ACTA Files Amicus Brief in Support of Speech First in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

November 6, 2019 by ACTA

Washington, DCThe American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Independent Women’s Law Center (IWF) filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The brief supports Speech First, a national organization dedicated to protecting students’ free speech rights, in its appeal of a district court decision that denied its motion to enjoin the University of Illinois from enforcing several policies that chill political speech on campus.

ACTA and IWF believe that the University of Illinois’s Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) creates an environment that forces students to refrain from engaging in open and wide-ranging discussions of important social and political issues. Mountains of survey data and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that students frequently engage in self-censorship. They do so for many reasons, including the specific fear that they will be punished by administrators who deem their speech offensive. As such, the brief argues that the University of Illinois’s speech policies betray a core function of the American academy in the following ways:

  1. “Bias response teams are set up for the very purpose of chilling certain forms of speech on campus . . . [and] the structure and methods employed by bias response teams are implicitly punitive.”
  2. “The University’s speech policies fail to articulate clear processes or guidelines for their enforcement. The resulting uncertainty creates strong pressures that discourage reasonably risk-averse students from expressing controversial viewpoints.”
  3. “Despite claims that bias response teams seek merely to educate, their real purpose is often much broader, requiring them to address incidents in such a way as to satisfy powerful left-leaning constituencies—often to the detriment of students’ First Amendment rights.” 
  4. “Bias response teams are transforming the American collegiate experience by normalizing the idea that it is appropriate for an institution to investigate purportedly offensive utterances that fall outside an established orthodoxy as determined by the most extreme and intolerant members of an already politically slanted university community.”

“The academy’s mission is to prepare students to be engaged and informed citizens, but this cannot happen when ideas are sidelined, ignored, or even banned based upon political bias,” stated Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA. “In the misguided belief that controlling speech will further social justice these strategically vague speech policies have become instruments designed to deter the expression of viewpoints that depart from the orthodoxy currently in favor on campuses.” 

“Today, more than two hundred universities operate bias response teams, many of them on public campuses. The consequences of this trend are less diversity of opinion on college campuses and the impoverishment of our national marketplace of ideas,” said Jonathan Pidluzny, ACTA’s director of academic affairs. “Universities that discourage the free exchange of ideas are failing to prepare students to be responsible members of a democratic society, in which citizens are free to express their views and capable of doing so with respect and civility.”  

Click here to read the brief >>>


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