Student Sues University After Accusation Of Harmful Speech

Jeremy Beale Contributor
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A University of South Carolina student filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the college Tuesday after being interrogated and threatened with expulsion.

This news comes after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education made public their intent to fund the lawsuit.

The approved school event, organized by USC student Ross Abbott, was conducted four months ago in connection with Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) and College Libertarians. It was designed to raise awareness about 11 documented cases of school censorship spanning the nation.

However, due to reports from a few members of the student body and an overreaction by USC officials, Abbott received a “Notice of Charge” from the school’s Equal Opportunity Program, citing his infringement upon the discrimination policy and possible repercussions for violating it. Those repercussions included expulsion. (RELATED: These Will Be the Biggest Education Issues of 2016)

According to FIRE’s release, Abbott and YAL President Michael Kriete sat down with Carl Wells, the Assistant Director of the EOP, to discuss the intent of the demonstration and possible solutions.

Abbott told FIRE that after he explained each case, he gave Wells a letter asking that his disciplinary record be expunged and that the school reform it’s speech policy to meet the standards of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago:

“All members of the University community (should be allowed) the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” (Thus), making it clear, “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

By the end of December Abbott was able to get the threat of expulsion dropped.

However, due to the school’s failure to meet Abbott’s other demands of reform, he proceeded to sue the school. (RELATED: Poll: Most Americans Favor Regulating ‘Hate Speech’ On Campus)

Catherine Sevcenko, FIRE’s director of litigation, spoke out against USC s intolerance in a press release provided by the foundation, saying “students can’t even talk about free speech.”

She noted the ironic nature of the situation as the university’s current marketing campaign features the slogan “No Limits”:

“No Limits articulates our values, our aspirations and our personality. As Gamecocks, we are ambitious and confident, successful and vibrant, and, most of all, genuine. There are truly “no limits” to what you can achieve through a University of South Carolina experience.”

However, circumstantially, it would seem that there is some limit to what students can say in accordance with the campus’ discrimination and harassment policies:

“It is the policy of the University of South Carolina that all students should be able to learn and live in an educational and campus environment that is free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, genetics, veteran status, or any other category protected by law.”

USC professes the recognition of human dignity and respect within an environment that provides the free exchange of ideas and education opportunities, but contrarily proceeded in silencing, threatening, interrogating and ignoring a member of the student body.

“I held an educational event for students to learn about their free speech rights [and] apparently it was my school’s administrators that needed the lesson,” Abbott said in the FIRE release. “Now, with FIRE’s help, we’re going to give it to them.”

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