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The Forum | Free Speech


No. 21-12583 United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Bias Response Teams Have A Chilling Effect On Free Speech
October 12, 2021 by ACTA Download PDF

The lawsuit, Speech First, Inc. v. Alexander Cartwright, challenges three of the university’s policies: the university’s discriminatory harassment policy, its computer use policy, and its policy surrounding the reporting and investigation of so-called bias incidents. These rules and regulations restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day.

The brief filed by ACTA and the Independent Women’s Law Center focuses on the third policy—the mechanism that the university uses to collect and investigate claims of bias.  In this case, the university has established a panel of university administrators (including a police officer) to investigate and punish “any behavior or action directed towards an individual or group based upon [the] actual or perceived identity characteristics or background” of the complainant, “without regard to whether the act is legal, illegal, intentional, or unintentional.” The panel’s response to alleged incidents can “involve a variety of activities including discussion, mediation, training, counseling, and consensus-building”—sometimes summoning not only the person who was impacted by the “bias” but the accused students and bystanders as well. Failure to participate in these interventions can be considered “disruptive behavior,” punishable under the university’s code of conduct.

In their brief, ACTA and IWLC explain that such bias response teams—once thought to live only on the pages of dystopian novels or in repressive dictatorial regimes—are today neither unusual nor uncommon at colleges and universities. The brief further explains that investigatory mechanisms such as those used by the University of Central Florida create a climate of fear, chilling the free exchange of ideas on campus.


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