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ADF: Shippensburg University's speech codes violate students' free speech rights

ADF attorneys file suit on behalf of Christian student organization after school fails to honor legal settlement
Beware the Bias Investigators

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Attorneys and allied attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom filed suit against Shippensburg University Wednesday for its continued violations of student free speech rights.  The university reinstituted unconstitutional policies it was supposed to revise or drop as part of a 2004 legal settlement.

Christian clubs and students should not be threatened and expelled for expressing their beliefs,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven H. Aden. “We hope that a return trip to the courthouse for this constitutional repeat offender will cause Shippensburg to finally mend its ways and embrace a true diversity of views--religious, political, and otherwise--so that the university can become the ‘marketplace of ideas’ it is supposed to be.”

According to the university, SU’s speech code in its Code of Conduct is designed to stop “harassment,” “intimidation,” and “subordination.”  The codes also encourage students to report classmates who may be violating the code.  The university’s Student Senate used provisions of the Code of Conduct to strip a campus Christian student organization, Christian Fellowship, of its rights and privileges simply because it adheres to membership requirements consistent with its statement of faith.  Members of the club fear that they could violate the school’s speech code merely by speaking out about their group and their faith.

In 2004, a judge issued a preliminary injunction against several of the policies on the grounds that they were too broad and likely violate the First and 14th Amendments.  As part of a settlement, SU agreed to revoke the policies named in the order.  However, school officials have since re-enacted many of those policies nearly verbatim, including a prohibition on “emotional abuse” and a requirement that students reflect the official views of the university administration in their “attitudes and behaviors.”

“Shippensburg University officials should be ashamed at this blatant attempt to renege on a legal settlement to which they agreed,” said Aden. “The university’s speech codes have created an environment in which groups that choose to honor their faith are now afraid to do so out of fear of hostility or harassment by the Student Senate or by school officials.”

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom defends religious freedom at America’s public universities.  ADF is a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.