University settles suit with group that argued school policy banning slurs, stereotyping violated free speech 

“Universities across the country should be put on notice that overbroad policies designed to chill student speech will not be tolerated," said Speech First Executive Director Cherise Trump.

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The University of Houston System has agreed to settle a federal suit with a group that accused it of imposing a policy that violated free speech by banning slurs, stereotypes, and other infractions.

A conservative, First Amendment rights group called Speech First and three University of Houston students sued the UH System in federal court, alleging that its anti-discrimination policy was a violation of their free speech. 

A UH System statement obtained by the Houston Chronicle reads, “The UH System has reached an amicable agreement with the plaintiff and now considers this matter resolved. As a result of our discussions, a revised anti-discrimination policy has been adopted. The UH System remains committed to protecting the constitutional rights of our students and employees.”

The University of Houston System has settled a federal lawsuit with a First Amendment rights group and three University of Houston students over its anti-discrimination policy. (Photo: Screenshot/uh.com)

Cherise Trump, executive director for Speech First, told the Chronicle that the settlement represents a victory. “This is a huge win for the First Amendment,” she said.

“Universities across the country should be put on notice that overbroad policies designed to chill student speech will not be tolerated. Every institution of higher learning should protect freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and the open exchange of ideas, not muzzle students with speech codes that disregard federal guidelines and the U.S. Constitution.”

The settlement rescinds the policy and will require the university to pay Speech First $30,000 in legal fees. 

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.”

U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes signaled weeks ago that he was leaning toward siding with the students because adherence to the law is at issue, which prompted the UH system to settle, according to the Chronicle. “The University cannot choose to abide by the First Amendment in the Constitution. It is not guidance — it is the law.”

Speech First has led and settled lawsuits at other universities. Trump has said, “Universities should not be ideological instruments for propagating expression carefully curated to match whatever ideas and beliefs happen to be popular at the moment.” 

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