Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Suit Challenges University's Anti-Harassment Policy

A suit was filed this week in an Iowa federal district court challenging the constitutionality of Iowa State University's anti-harassment policy and the required online anti-harassment training program for all students and staff.  The Student Code of Conduct defines discriminatory harassment as:
unwelcome behavior directed at an individual or group of individuals based on race, ethnicity, pregnancy, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran (disabled, Vietnam, or other), or other protected class when the behavior has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with the student's education or employment by creating an intimidating, hostile, or demeaning environment.
Harassment may include some instances of First Amendment protected speech.  The complaint (full text) in Dunn v. Leath, (SD IA, filed 10/17/2016), alleges that the policy violates students' free speech, due process, equal protection and free exercise rights. The complaint reads in part:
131. Plaintiff seeks to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs by discussing and advocating for his Christian faith and his Christian viewpoint on marriage, sexuality, abortion, and other issues in controversy.
132. Defendants’ promulgation and enforcement of each of the policies complained of herein substantially burden Dunn’s free exercise of religion by preventing and chilling him from sharing his religious views.
... 134. This policy is neither neutral nor generally applicable because it punishes speech critical of another religious belief or deemed offensive to listeners because of their religious beliefs while not sanctioning other speech.
ADF issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.