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CSU Channel Islands called out by free speech group for unconstitutional policy



CSU Channel Islands called out by free speech group for unconstitutional policy

CAMARILLO, Calif., July 3, 2019 –– Have you ever told a joke that fell flat or that someone found offensive?

If you’re a student at California State University Channel Islands, that joke might just land you in hot water due to an overbroad and poorly written policy that bans expression deemed “derogatory.”

For this reason, CSU Channel Islands’ harassment policy is FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month for July 2019. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national free speech organization, highlights one restrictive university policy each month as its Speech Code of the Month.

CSU Channel Islands’ harassment policy states that harassment includes “derogatory posters, cartoons, drawings, symbols, or gestures,” as well as “epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs.” At first glance, this might seem fine. After all, that sort of speech can be included in harassing conduct. But these broad examples are typically constitutionally protected when standing alone. Even worse, the policy relies on a faulty definition of harassment that differs immensely from the legal standard from the Supreme Court –– and as a public institution, that’s a huge problem.

“By relying on subjective terms like ‘derogatory,’ CSU Channel Islands throws the baby out with the bathwater,” said Laura Beltz, FIRE senior program officer. “Overbroad policies like this knowingly or unknowingly risk stifling student expression and put students at the whim of an administrator’s subjective view of what expression is ‘derogatory.’ Not only is this a violation of students’ rights, it also opens the university up to potential lawsuits.”

Only two schools in the entire state of California receive FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating for free speech: Claremont McKenna College and the University of California, Los Angeles. Unfortunately, CSU Channel Islands holds FIRE’s worst rating for free speech, a “red light” rating. A red light rating indicates that a school has at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts free speech.

To learn more about the state of free speech on college campuses, see FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

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