In yet another example of the federal government going too far, the Departments of Justice and Education have created a policy that threatens free speech right on college campuses.
In a letter to the University of Montana, the departments describe a policy that it explicitly states will be “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.” It defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature and can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”
Moreover, the letter says that the University of Montana’s original policy was incorrect in its determination of sexual harassment, which required it to be considered offensive “from the perspective of an objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation.”
So not only does the policy create an overwhelmingly vague definition of sexual harassment, but it allows entirely subjective factors to determine if sexual harassment occurred. If the listener takes any offense to sexually related speech, no matter how absurd the claim, the speaker can face punishment.
According to The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a watchdog group, this policy will be mandated at all colleges that receive federal funding, which is nearly every public and private college in the country.
FIRE, which called the letter “a shocking affront to the United States Constitution,” outlined a few of the actions that could fall under this new policy:
- Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of "The Vagina Monologues," a presentation on safe-sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita—subject to discipline.
- Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.
- Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.
College is supposed to be a time for young adults to learn about the world and grow as individuals, not have their free speech rights restricted by an overbearing federal government. Universities need policies in place to handle sexual harassment, but impeding their constitutional rights is an extraordinarily bad way to do it.