ISU Student Sues University Over Free Speech Restrictions, Threat of Withheld Graduation

Iowa State University threatened to put Robert Dunn's graduation on hold if he didn't comply with new "harassment" policies he claims could limit his free speech rights.

By Liberty McArtor Published on October 18, 2016

One Iowa State University student is suing the school for telling him that his graduation could be put on hold if he refuses to comply with a new harassment policy that the student fears could threaten his free speech rights.

Robert Dunn, president of the university’s conservative Young America’s Foundation chapter received an email from the university in September with a training program on ISU’s “non-discrimination policies and procedures.”

“The 118-slide course provides no expressed acknowledgement of any free speech rights of students or their interplay with the university’s ‘harassment’ policies,” a statement from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the non-profit legal firm representing Dunn, claims.

“Harassment,” ADF  stated, is defined by ISU in “numerous other vague, overly broad, and discriminatory ways,” including speech that may “annoy or alarm another” student. Dunn, a Christian, and other students have been told by ISU that opposing same-sex marriage could be considered a violation of the policies.

“These are anti-speech policies masquerading as ‘harassment’ policies,” said Senior Counsel Casey Mattox in ADF’s statement Monday. Nevertheless, students were required to certify that they had “read, understood, and will comply with” the training.

When Dunn asked ISU’s Office of Equal Opportunity what would happen if he did not comply with the training, the office responded that his graduation would be put on hold and that his name would be placed on a list for the dean of students to review.

ADF filed the lawsuit with a federal district court in Iowa Monday on Dunn’s behalf, claiming that the university’s actions violate the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. “The First Amendment’s Free Speech clause, incorporated and made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibits content and viewpoint discrimination in public forums on the campus of a public university,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit seeks the immediate suspension of the university’s policies and a declaration by the court that the university violated the First and 14th amendments.

“Iowa State thinks it knows better than the First Amendment,” Mattox said, “making other student’s opinions about the value of a student’s speech, instead of the Constitution, the test for whether speech is protected.”

Iowa State University News Service declined The Stream’s request for comment, saying that the university did not typically comment on pending litigation.

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