The University of Central Florida will face a federal judge at 1 p.m. Monday to defend itself against a lawsuit claiming UCF policies violate the First Amendment.
The plaintiffs are three anonymous students and Speech First Inc., a nationwide membership organization dedicated to preserving human and civil rights secured by law and promoting First Amendment protections for college students with “unpopular ideas”. They are asking the court to enter a preliminary injunction to stop UCF from enforcing several policies they believe violate the First Amendment.
The challenged policies involve UCF’s discriminatory-harassment policy and its policy of using a bias response team to address unpopular speech.
The case, Speech First, Inc., v. Alexander Cartwright, will be presided over by Judge Gregory A. Presnell, a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
UCF defended its policies and released an official statement to KnightNews.com prior to the hearing.
“The University of Central Florida has a long history of supporting free speech and open expression, and believes so strongly in that right it is guaranteed in the first paragraph of our Student Rules of Conduct: ‘The right of all students to seek knowledge, debate ideas, form opinions, and freely express their ideas is fully recognized by the University of Central Florida. The Rules of Conduct…will not be used to impose discipline for the lawful expression of ideas,’ UCF said.
The university added, “We also expect our students and employees to follow state and federal laws that guarantee freedom from unlawful discrimination, and our policies are meant to ensure that.”
However, the public is unable to monitor how and whether UCF lives up to that promise of protecting the First Amendment because the university holds secret conduct hearings.
The plaintiffs said UCF’s arguments have not worked before.
According to the plaintiffs’ most recent filing, “The universities of Texas and Michigan also put First Amendment disclaimers in their policies, swore that their policies were never applied to protected speech, and told students that bias-response teams were non-disciplinary and ‘voluntary.’”
The university’s bias response team, called the Just Knights Response Team (“JKRT”), is comprised of university administrators (including a police officer) to police “bias-related incidents” on and off campus, according to the lawsuit.
Speech First President Nicole Neily told WMFE the goal of this lawsuit is to eliminate the university’s bias response team in addition to eliminate “broad language” from the school’s policies such as in their discriminatory-harassment policy.
“The way that the university has defined some of these policies is very broad and very vague, so it leaves the administration with broad discretionary power to pick winners and losers,” Neily said. “That is not a constitutional standard.”
The lawsuit is centered around three anonymous students who claim they are fearful of sharing their conservative viewpoints on campus over repercussions that may follow. The lawsuit points to the firing of former Associate Professor Charles Negy as one of the reasons why they are afraid of sharing their viewpoints.
“All of them echoed, ‘If this could happen to a tenured professor, what would happen to me,’” she said.
Knight News will be at Monday’s hearing in the Orlando federal courthouse. Check back for updates on how the judge reacted to both sides.
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