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Conservative free speech group sues IU for bias reporting

Associate Professor Abdulkader Sinno will be suspended from teaching until the fall semester.
Indiana University Bloomington
Associate Professor Abdulkader Sinno will be suspended from teaching until the fall semester.

Speech First Inc., a conservative organization for free speech on college campuses, is suing Indiana University.

In the lawsuit, Speech First claims IU violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, because the university has a “vague” and “overbroad” bias incident reporting system. The group named President Pamela Whitten, the Board of Trustees and several IU leaders on the Bloomington and Indianapolis campus.

Speech First’s lawsuit said college campuses should serve as a marketplace of ideas and support different viewpoints.

“Yet Indiana University and its officials have enacted a far-reaching policy that is designed solely to deter, discourage, and otherwise ‘prevent’ students from expressing disfavored views about the political and social issues of the day,” Speech First’s lawsuit said.

IU offers anonymous bias incident reportingfor anyone who experienced, saw or became aware of an incident.

IU defines bias incidents as “any conduct, speech, or expression, motivated in whole or in part by bias or prejudice meant to intimidate, demean, mock, degrade, marginalize, or threaten individuals or groups based on that individual or group's actual or perceived identities.”

The university’s Bias Response Team doesn’t formally investigate or discipline those involved in an incident. It logs and tracks incidents, and it may refer to those involved to relevant support services or offices.

A spokesperson for IU said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

Speech First is a nationwide membership organization based in Washington D.C. The group has sued multiple universities for bias incident reporting systems. This year, the group filed a similar lawsuit against Texas State University. It has settled bias incident reporting cases against University of Texas, University of Michigan and the University of Central Florida, and all three shut down bias incident reporting teams.

Speech First also campaigns against Title IX and diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

The complaint against IU was filed on May 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.

The lawsuit cites experiences of five anonymous IU students and Speech First members. The students say they cannot share their conservative views about sex, gender, abortion, the state of Israel, the Black Lives Matter movement, race and other political topics because they could be reported for committing a bias incident.

“Speech First is suing IU to defend the rights of our student members and to eliminate these policies that chill, deter, and silence students’ speech,” Executive Director of Speech First Cherise Trump said in a release.

Aubrey is our higher education reporter and a Report For America corps member. Contact her at aubmwrig@iu.edu or follow her on X @aubreymwright.