A university's bias response team threatens to chill the First Amendment rights of tens of thousands of students, a free speech group claims.
Kentucky University has what it calls a Bias Incident Response Team, which monitors “activity that intimidates, demeans, mocks, degrades, marginalizes, or threatens individuals or groups.”
However, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, said the program encourages students to “anonymously report offensive speech to literal speech police” on campus. The group, who gave the university a speech code award, said this type of anonymous student reporting creates a “if you hear something, say something” anti-bias campaign with serious implications for protecting the First Amendment on campus.
“It is understandable that universities want to stay attuned to the campus climate in order to create an environment that is as welcoming as possible to people of all backgrounds — but there are surely ways to do this short of creating a mini-surveillance state on campus,” wrote Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research at FIRE.
The University of Kentucky implemented its bias response team in 2016.
University spokesman Jay Blanton told Fox News in a statement that the First Amendment right to free speech and the necessity of creating an environment where everyone feels a sense of support and belonging are not irreconcilable principles.
"There is no penalty for exercising your free speech rights on our campus," Blaton said. "Except for reasonable restrictions necessary for university operations, our entire campus is open to free speech. But we also will not hesitate in speaking out in opposition when someone uses speech or words to hurt or harm, to demean or denigrate. And we will not hesitate to provide support to those who feel targeted by hurtful speech."
The university’s program comes as Speech First, a nonprofit aimed at combating free speech restrictions on college campuses, is suing the University of Michigan in federal court for imposing speech codes that are “unconstitutional” and overly vague.
According to FIRE, at least 153 schools nationwide have bias reporting policies in place.