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University of Illinois Sued for Censoring Free Speech

An advocacy group is suing the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for censoring free speech on campus.

Speech First, a community of concerned citizens including students, parents, faculty, and alumni filed a lawsuit in the Central District of Illinois against top university officials including president Timothy L. Killeen and chancellor Robert J. Jones for creating an “elaborate investigative and enforcement regime” that curbs and punishes campus free speech.

The lawsuit alleges the school of creating rules and regulations that restrain students from raising issues that are political and social in nature. It further alleges the university of prohibiting bias-motivated incidents by implementing a vague definition that is fully protected under the First Amendment.

“A student who distributes promotional materials of candidates for non-campus elections before receiving approval from the University is subject to disciplinary action. Punishment may include reprimand, censure, probation, suspension, and dismissal from the University,” the group claimed in its lawsuit.

The suit also targets the school’s arbitrary use of “No contact directives” against students have not violated the Student Code of contact, citing an example from 2017 where a student was served with a directive for writing an article about an incident that happened during an anti-Trump rally.

In March, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to enforce free speech on college campuses across the country. The order allows 12 federal agencies to withhold federal research or education grants, excluding federal student aid funding, from colleges that practice censorship.

Critics of the order, who classified it as a “political agenda” and castigated Trump for setting a dangerous precedent of taking “punitive action” against colleges, were worried that the move could “discredit” the higher education system and undermine public trust.

Since the order was signed, colleges and universities have been under increased pressure to not censure free speech. Earlier this month, Cleveland State University agreed to settle a free speech lawsuit for $50,000 with multimedia artist Billie Lawless for censoring a phrase on his sculpture that referenced President Trump.

The phrase “BUILD A WALL OF PUSSIE’ was added by the artist to his 42-foot sculpture called The Politician: A Toy, in reference to Trump’s continued push for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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