Judge signals he will rule in favor of students who say university policy banning slurs chills free speech rights

The policy is at the center of a lawsuit from conservative students with the nonprofit group Speech First

A U.S. district court judge in Texas has sided with a conservative group that says the University of Houston’s anti-discrimination policy is a violation of free speech. 

As reported by The Houston Chronicle, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes blocked the university from re-implementing a former version of its anti-discrimination policy, which is at the center of a lawsuit from conservative students with the nonprofit group Speech First. 

The University of Houston (Photo: Screenshot/uh.com)

The lawsuit was filed against the university after it implemented a policy that stated students will be expelled or put on probation if they subject their peers “to unlawful severe, pervasive, or persistent treatment” because of their race, color, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation, per the report.

 As reported previously by theGrio, the university’s policy, posted on its website, says, in part: “Examples that could satisfy this legal standard include, but are not limited to: epithets or slurs, negative stereotyping, threatening, intimidating or hostile acts, denigrating jokes and display or circulation (including through e-mail) of written or graphic material in the learning, living, or working environment.”

The lawsuit lists the unnamed students as Students A, B and C, and notes personal beliefs that they are afraid to discuss because of the university’s policy. For example, per theGrio report, Student B doesn’t want to use pronouns and “play along with the fiction that people can ‘decide’ whether they are a male, a female, or neither,” according to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas.

“Universities should not be ideological instruments for propagating expression carefully curated to match whatever ideas and beliefs happen to be popular at the moment,” said Speech First Executive Director Cherise Trump. 

Hughes, a Reagan appointee, granted a preliminary injunction to Speech First in May, saying his final ruling will most likely side with the students, according to The Houston Chronicle. Hughes said the ruling was necessary to provide students “defenses against arbitrary professors.”

“The University cannot choose to abide by the First Amendment in the Constitution,” Hughes wrote. “It is not guidance – it is the law.”

“This is another huge victory for students in Texas,” Trump said. “The court’s ruling sends a clear message to all universities that restrictions on student speech will not be tolerated simply because listeners find certain ideas to be offensive or controversial.”

Trump continued, “The University’s policy subjects students to formal discipline for ‘harassment’ for merely expressing mainstream conservative opinions that other students find objectionable. This overbroad restriction on speech forces students to habitually self-censor and refrain from beliefs that are inconsistent with the ‘consensus’ on campus. Higher education should be a sanctuary for debate where students can express their beliefs and engage with opposing viewpoints.”

The ruling bars the University of Houston from implementing its previous anti-discrimination policy during the litigation.

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