Press Releases | 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

Orlando, FL—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Independent Women’s Law Center (IWLC) have filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of Speech First and students at the University of Central Florida. Speech First is suing the University of Central Florida on behalf of its student members, alleging that the university’s speech policies violate students’ First Amendment rights.

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” [italics added].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.

Jonathan Pidluzny, ACTA’s vice president of academic affairs, issued the following statement: “Despite claims that bias committees merely foster ‘safe’ and ‘inclusive’ campus environments, the entire purpose of such reporting structures is to deter the expression of viewpoints that some members of the community consider offensive—in clear violation of the First Amendment.”

Jennifer C. Braceras, director of the Independent Women’s Law Center, issued the following statement: “By encouraging students to report one another for so-called offensive speech, the University of Central Florida has set up a surveillance state reminiscent of the East German Stasi. A desire to encourage civility, however laudable, can never justify the enactment of overbroad and punitive systems that can be used to deter the expression of unpopular political opinions.”

Read the full brief HERE.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education.

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF advocates for equal opportunity, individual liberty, and respect for the American constitutional order.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin
PHONE: (202) 798-5425


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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