DOJ: University of Michigan free speech policies 'vague and overbroad'


WASHINGTON – The United States Department of Justice says the University of Michigan's policies on free speech are too vague.

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest on Monday afternoon.

"The Department of Justice today filed a Statement of Interest in Speech First, Inc., v. Schlissel in the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiff, Speech First, a nationwide organization dedicated to defending civil liberties, alleges that the University of Michigan has adopted policies prohibiting and punishing speech protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  Speech First alleges that the University of Michigan’s policies on “harassment,” “bullying,” and “bias” are so vague and overbroad as to prompt students to limit their speech out of fear that they might be subject to disciplinary sanction, including “individual education” or “restorative justice” at the hands of the University’s Bias Response Team."

“Freedom of speech and expression on the American campus are under attack. This Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is committed to promoting and defending Americans’ first freedom at public universities," said Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio.

The University of Michigan released this statement:

The Department of Justice, like the plaintiff (Speech First), has seriously misstated University of Michigan policy and painted a false portrait of speech on our campus.

Contrary to the department’s statement, the university’s Bias Response Team does not “ha[ve] the authority to subject students to discipline and sanction.” Rather, it provides support to students on a voluntary basis; it does not investigate claims of bias or discipline students in any way. 

U-M prohibits "harassing" and "bullying," but the definitions of those terms have just been streamlined and are based on provisions of Michigan law that have been upheld by the courts. 

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