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Conservative students file lawsuit to end policy banning slurs, disparaging jokes

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The University of Houston has been sued on behalf of three students claiming they feel constrained in what they can say there.

A non-profit group has sued the University of Houston on behalf of three self-described conservative students who say they feel constrained in what they can say on campus.

The group, Speech First, said in a press release on its website that the university’s anti-discrimination policy stifles free speech.

The University of Houston has been sued on behalf of three reportedly conservative students who claim they feel constrained in what they can say there. (Photo: Screenshot/uh.com)

“Universities should not be ideological instruments for propagating expression carefully curated to match whatever ideas and beliefs happen to be popular at the moment,” said Cherise Trump, the executive director of Speech First. 

The university’s policy, posted on its website, says, in part: “Examples that could satisfy this legal standard include, but are not limited to: epithets or slurs, negative stereotyping, threatening, intimidating or hostile acts, denigrating jokes and display or circulation (including through e-mail) of written or graphic material in the learning, living, or working environment.”

The lawsuit lists the unnamed students as Students A, B and C, and notes beliefs they say they’re afraid to discuss, given the university’s policy.

Student A, for example, believes affirmative action is racist and marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Student B doesn’t want to use pronouns and “play along with the fiction that people can ‘decide’ whether they are a male, a female, or neither,” according to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas.

Student C believes Black Lives Matter is an activist group that harms race relations.

We look forward to fighting to protect student speech at the University of Houston 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/dYly700GGm

— Speech First (@Speech_First) February 23, 2022

The university released a statement to The Houston Chronicle that stood behind its policy.

“This lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the University of Houston System’s Anti-Discrimination policy based on the First Amendment,” it read. “We believe Speech First has misconstrued or misread this policy as our policy clearly indicates that actionable harassment must be ‘unlawfully severe, pervasive, or persistent treatment,’ the standard cited by Plaintiffs and adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court.” 

The Speech First lawsuit is just the latest in an onslaught of actions by conservative groups challenging everything from campus speech to admissions policies.

The Pacific Legal Foundation has filed lawsuits challenging high school admissions policies meant to diversify student populations. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling that could scrap affirmative action on college campuses. And earlier this month, an affluent public school had to back off initiating its diversity, equity and inclusion plan when it was challenged by a conservative group, Parents Defending Education.

The Wellesley (Massachusetts) School District wanted to create “affinity groups” for Black and other students of color so they could “openly share their experiences without risk of feeling like they will offend someone from another group, and without another group’s voices.” WBUR reported.

But the parent’s collective objected, claiming the groups foster racial division and do more harm than good. The school district settled the suit, and now the groups are open to anyone.

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