Federal Government’s Latest First Amendment Assault Targets College Campuses

Adding to this week’s Scandalpalooza is a lesser known, but incredibly disturbing tidbit. According to Legal Insurrection, the federal government mandated speech codes on all college campuses.  Free speech issues on college campuses usually center around student groups’ rights to protest, but this latest first amendment assault creates such a subjective vacuum, it renders every college student a potential criminal:

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

The 31 page letter was issued by the Department of Education and Department of Justice and can be read in its entirety here.  As FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) points out, these new mandates are ridiculously broad:

Among the forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government are: 

  • Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—subject to discipline.
  • Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
  • Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.

Add this speech mandate to the IRS scandal targeting pro-liberty organizations and the revelation that the Department of Justice secretly obtained business, cell and home phone records of Associated Press reporters and we have an incredibly concerning cocktail of first amendment infringements. Perhaps the bigger concern is that there’s no end in sight.