CV NEWS FEED // A lawsuit alleging that Oklahoma State University violates its students’ right to free speech has reached the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and may eventually head to the Supreme Court.
The initial lawsuit was filed in January 2023 by Speech First, an organization that advocates for and litigates on behalf of students’ free speech rights on college campuses. Speech First has won several lawsuits protecting free speech on university campuses nationwide, including at the University of Michigan, the University of Texas, University of Central Florida, and Iowa State University, among others.
The suit was dismissed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma because Speech First refused to name the students involved. Speech First then appealed to the circuit court.
In May, several amici briefs were submitted in support of Speech First’s appellate brief.
The parties who filed the amici briefs include the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), the Manhattan Institute, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, the American Bankers Association, the Independent Women’s Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, and CatholicVote.
All the amici briefs support the students’ right to remain anonymous, citing previous court cases as evidence.
“Our members’ anonymity is beyond important; without it, students would be left open to the whims of authoritarian college administrators or faculty who are determined to censor, compel, and coerce student speech,” says Cherise Trump, executive director of Speech First. “Our student members fear retaliation from the university, fellow students, and the broader community for expressing their views. Students who stand-up against the university that is violating their rights require courage, but this action does not eliminate the threat of reprisal that still exists while these students remain on campus and attend classes.”
In the original lawsuit, Speech First claimed OSU violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of its students.
OSU policies say students who use “abusive” or “threatening” speech may be disciplined, yet the university has no clear definition of what constitutes such speech. Students can even be punished for saying nothing “in the presence of prohibited conduct”; meaning if someone else is saying something offensive, a student can be disciplined for not speaking against it.
The initial complaint also highlights severe speech restrictions on students’ computer use, forbidding them from using the University’s network or their university email accounts to “transmit political campaigning”. If students violate the school’s computer policy, they can lose privileges and can be disciplined under the Student Code of Conduct.
OSU policies also allow fellow students to report on their classmates.
“Oklahoma State’s policies regarding their bias response team, harassment policy, and computer policy are clearly designed to monitor, investigate, and restrict student speech all together,” says Trump.
The fact that students can’t even express an opinion without worrying that another student can use one of these policies to report them shows us that the school’s administrators have no interest in encouraging students to engage in the robust exchange of ideas nor in protecting students’ rights.