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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Stopping Hate (of Free Speech)



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Earlier this week, the Alliance Defense Fund announced a settlement in its case against Spokane Falls Community College. ADF filed the case after the college barred a pro-life Christian group from putting up a pro-life display, saying that the material didn’t contain any pro-choice viewpoints (what?) and noting that it could violate the school’s “Stop the Hate” program. ADF’s suit challenged not only the censorship itself but also attacked the college’s speech codes, including the pernicious “Stop the Hate” program.

As my colleague (and lead counsel on the case) Heather Hacker explains, under the college’s policy students were encouraged to report on one another when they observed an “incident” of “bias” defined as:

An act of conduct, speech or expression to which a bias motive (relating to race, religion, disability status, ethnicity/national origin, gender or sexual orientation) is evident as a contributing factor regardless of whether the act is criminal. 

The program encouraged anonymous reporting of “biased” speech, empowered “Stop the Hate” officials to investigate, and sanctions loomed over every student’s head.  

But no longer. Now the policy is dramatically changed, the college’s speech codes have been eliminated, and the plaintiff even received a modest damage award for her trouble. But, as Heather notes, Spokane Falls did not invent the Stop the Hate policy, and FIRE has long been active in the fight against anonymous reporting and investigation of student expression. Already we’re receiving reports of similar policies at other schools, and I get the distinct feeling that this will not be the last time we go to court to “stop the hate” against free speech.



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