Iowa State to Students: Surrender First Amendment Rights or Risk Not Graduating

Some free speech is considered “harassment.”

Students at Iowa State University have been put on notice that if they don’t comply with the official “harassment” policy they risk putting their graduation on hold. 

On Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed against the school by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) group on behalf of student Robert Dunn for trampling on his constitutional rights. Dunn is a Christian and heads several politically conservative student groups on campus, including Young Americans for Freedom, a project of Young America’s Foundation

According to ADF, Iowa State requires students to undergo an online training program on its non-discrimination policies and procedures. Throughout the 118-slide course, the right to a student’s freedom of speech is never mentioned. At the end, the student must check a box that indicates he/she has “read, understood, and will comply with” all that was covered. Dunn was specifically told by faculty and administrators that opposition to things like same-sex marriage could possibly violate the school’s policy. As a result, the university may decide to place a hold on that student’s graduation and place their name on the dean of students “review” list.

From ADF’s report:

Officials at Iowa State confirmed that if student Robert Dunn or any other student declines to certify that he will comply with these policies, his graduation may be placed on hold. The policies state that they “may cover those activities which, although not severe, persistent, or pervasive enough to meet the legal definition of harassment, are unacceptable…” and explain that even “First Amendment protected speech activities” may constitute harassment “depending on the circumstances,” including whether other students believe the speech is not “legitimate,” not “necessary,” or lacks a “constructive purpose.”

However, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox rightly states that no university policy can trump the First Amendment.

“Iowa State thinks it knows better than the First Amendment, making other student’s opinions about the value of a student’s speech, instead of the Constitution, the test for whether speech is protected,” he added. “These are anti-speech policies masquerading as ‘harassment’ policies. They are not befitting an institution of higher education, especially when Iowa State demands that students agree to them under threat of withholding the ability to graduate.”

Dunn v. Leath has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa and “requests that the policies be suspended immediately and that the court issue a declaration that they violate the First and 14th amendments.”

ADF has already confronted the school over similar policies back in 2013 and 2014 and offered to “assist in correcting the constitutional flaws in the policies.” But the university declined and “revised” it on their own. 

See you in court, as they say.