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Appeals Court Rules Against University of Central Florida in Free Speech Case: 'Huge Victory'

04-25-2022
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A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a University of Central Florida (UCF) policy targeting "discriminatory harassment" likely violates the First Amendment.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit unanimously sided with Speech First, a non-profit organization committed to protecting freedom of speech on college campuses.

Speech First said in a statement that the lawsuit against UCF was first filed in Feb. 2021 after the school issued rules and regulations that "restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech about the political and social issues of the day."

A district court judge granted partial relief to the group in July regarding a computer use policy after UCF banned the transmission of messages that included "intimidation, harassment, (or) unwarranted annoyance." 

However, the district court upheld the university's bias-response team and its policy on "discriminatory harassment," which included conduct related to someone's race, ethnicity, religion, age, or sexual orientation.

Then in September, Speech First appealed the conditions of the lower court's decision to the 11th Circuit Court.

Judge Newsom wrote in the opinion, "Colleges and universities serve as the founts of - and the testing grounds for - new ideas. Their chief mission is to equip students to examine arguments critically and, perhaps even more importantly, to prepare young citizens to participate in the civic and political life of our democratic republic."

Cherise Trump, executive director of Speech First, described the appeals-court decision as a "huge victory."

"We are thrilled that the Court sided with us as we work to protect students' First Amendment rights. This court decision should send an alarming message to anyone attempting to chill, silence, or bully into submission others' opinions." 

She continued, "Open dialogue and an exchange of ideas are how leaders are formed, censoring students will only stunt their ability to grow intellectually and contribute to society."

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