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Judge says University of Michigan's anti-bias team doesn't pose a threat to free speech

University of Michigan near Rackham and Michigan League
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
The judge hasn't officially made a ruling in the case, but she indicated Speech First's arguments don't have much merit.

The federal judge presiding over a free speech lawsuit filed against the University of Michigan indicated Tuesday that she doesn't think the university policies at issue in the case run afoul of the First Amendment.

U.S. District Court Judge Linda Parker hasn't made an official decision in the case yet. According to MLive, though, she said during court proceedings she doesn't see much merit to the arguments made by the free-speech group that raised the case.

A free speech watchdog group called Speech First filed the suit in May, claiming U of M’s Bias Response Team makes students afraid to say certain things – which they say is a suppression of free speech. They also alleged the university’s definitions for “bullying” and “harassment” were too broad.

The school changed their definitions in June, shortly after the United States Department of Justice expressed their interest in the lawsuit.

University representatives and lawyers declined to comment at this point in the case. But in an interview with Michigan Radio back in June, U of M president Mark Schlissel said he doesn’t believe the school’s policies ever conflicted with the First Amendment.

“For many months we've been looking at our policies and practices,” he said. “When the Speech First lawsuit called out some of the things we were already working on, we were well-prepared to update and simplify these definitions.”

Schlissel said he’s striving to create an environment at U of M that includes all community members and protects First Amendment rights. He doesn’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

“This bias response team was mischaracterized-- many universities have this, or something like this,” Schlissel said.

Judge Parker is expected to make her final decision on the case soon.

Maya Goldman is a newsroom intern for Michigan Radio. She is currently a student at the University of Michigan, where she studies anthropology and writing. During the school year, Maya also works as a senior news editor and podcast producer for The Michigan Daily.
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