DES MOINES, Iowa – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a student filed suit in federal court Monday against Iowa State University officials over “harassment” policies which specifically acknowledge that “engaging in First Amendment protected speech activities” may be punished as “harassment.”
Officials at Iowa State confirmed that if student Robert Dunn or any other student declines to certify that he will comply with these policies, his graduation may be placed on hold. The policies state that they “may cover those activities which, although not severe, persistent, or pervasive enough to meet the legal definition of harassment, are unacceptable…” and explain that even “First Amendment protected speech activities” may constitute harassment “depending on the circumstances,” including whether other students believe the speech is not “legitimate,” not “necessary,” or lacks a “constructive purpose.”
“No university policy can trump the First Amendment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “Iowa State thinks it knows better than the First Amendment, making other student’s opinions about the value of a student’s speech, instead of the Constitution, the test for whether speech is protected. These are anti-speech policies masquerading as ‘harassment’ policies. They are not befitting an institution of higher education, especially when Iowa State demands that students agree to them under threat of withholding the ability to graduate.”
The policies define “harassment” in numerous other vague, overly broad, and discriminatory ways, including prohibiting student expression that may “annoy or alarm another.” Iowa State faculty and administrators have warned Dunn and others that opposing same-sex marriage, for example, may be deemed to violate the harassment policies.
Dunn is a Christian and the president and founder of the politically conservative student group ISU Young Americans for Freedom, the campus chapter of the national Young America’s Foundation. Last month, Dunn received an e-mail from the university requiring a new online training program on “the university’s non-discrimination policies and procedures.” The 118-slide course provides no expressed acknowledgement of any free speech rights of students or their interplay with the university’s “harassment” policies, which it nonetheless requires each student to certify that he has “read, understood, and will comply with.” The training concludes with a mandate to certify compliance with the university’s speech policies.
When Dunn inquired of an ISU employee with the Office of Equal Opportunity what the consequences would be if a student didn’t agree to do so, he was told that it would result in a “hold” on his graduation and the placement of his name on a list of students for “review” by the dean of students.
In 2013 and 2014, ADF had contacted Iowa State about the problems with its policies and offered to assist in correcting the constitutional flaws in the policies. The university had responded in 2014 that it would reviewing the policies over a one-year period. The recent revisions, however, failed to address the obvious constitutional defects.
The lawsuit, Dunn v. Leath, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Southern Division, requests that the policies be suspended immediately and that the court issue a declaration that they violate the First and 14th amendments. Timm Reid, one of nearly 3,100 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for Dunn.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
# # # | Ref. 56368