Bullying and Free Speech

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday filed a brief backing a lawsuit that challenges an anti-bullying policy at the University of Michigan. The department said the policy limited the free speech rights of students and others. But the same day, Michigan announced that it had clarified its policy, explicitly pledging support for First Amendment rights and adopting definitions of bullying and harassment based on state law.

Whether the university’s clarifications will resolve the Justice Department’s concerns is unclear.

The Justice Department announcement said that it found the university’s code of student conduct to be “unconstitutional because it offers no clear, objective definitions of the violations” for bullying or harassing. “Instead, the statement refers students to a wide array of ‘examples of various interpretations that exist for the terms,’ many of which depend on a listener’s subjective reaction to speech.”

Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio issued this statement: “Freedom of speech and expression on the American campus are under attack. This Justice Department, under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is committed to promoting and defending Americans’ first freedom at public universities.”

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