University of Texas, group spar in court over free speech

Lawyers for the University of Texas were in a federal courtroom Friday to respond to allegations that the school has stifled students’ First Amendment rights through vague policies that fail to define unacceptable speech.

UT attorney Chip Babcock said it’s unclear whether anyone has actually been harmed because the three students behind the lawsuit have remained anonymous since their lawyers filed the complaint in December and have not said how they were hurt.

“Makes me wonder if they exist at all,” Babcock said.

In an otherwise collegial hearing that included Babcock making a Texas-Texas A&M joke and signaling ‘Horns Up’ to the court, the assertion that the opposing legal team might have lied about the existence of the students did not sit well with attorneys for Speech First, a national student group that says it offers assistance in suing schools over censorship for $5. Cameron Norris, a lawyer for the group who traveled to Austin from the Washington, D.C., area, said the anonymous students are real and he has spoken with them. Their identities, he said, might be released to UT down the road in a document sealed to the public, but for the time being the students are concerned about retaliatory actions the school might take against them.

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