The Departments of Justice and Education have teamed up to mandate new campus speech codes that are unconstitutional and violate the First Amendment, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
An extremely broad definition of sexual harassment has been mandated by the Departments of Justice and Education which, says FIRE, will make virtually every student in the United State a potential harasser. The plan was outlined in a letter sent to the University of Montana that was said to serve as a “blueprint” for every college and university that is federally-funded throughout the United States.
“The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.”
This is a complete change from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ previous stance on sexual harassment from 2003. Then they stated that harassment must go beyond verbal expression or symbols, and that the conduct must be evaluated as harassing by a reasonable person.
The punishable forms of ‘harassment‘ by the federal government now include any expression related to sexual topics that offends anyone. This could include things as harmless as a presentation on safe sex, a debate about sexual morality, a performance of “The Vagina Monologues”, a discussion of gay marriage or a classroom lecture of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita — or a joke that is sexually themed that is overheard by someone who finds it offensive for any reason.
The regulations are so broad that harassment also includes an invitation to go out on a date or a flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient.
“The federal government has put colleges and universities in an impossible position with this mandate,” said Lukianoff. “With this unwise and unconstitutional decision, the DOJ and DOE have doomed American campuses to years of confusion and expensive lawsuits, while students’ fundamental rights twist in the wind.”
This makes almost every student on campus a harasser. Mary Lou Byrd from the Washington Free Beacon found that college students are worried about this decision:
“My take on this is that the definition of sexual harassment on college campuses is too broad,” said Joseph Pareres, a junior in Manhattanville College. “This definition puts students at risk of being accused of sexual harassment for no valid reason.”