Posts Tagged ‘Rutgers’

Is the Tyler Clementi Act a Threat to Free Speech?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

David French in the National Review Online argues that the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act (H.R. 6425) is a threat to free speech.

As I mentioned previously, the bill specifically targets cyberbullying and includes blogging activity within its coverage. My discussion of the bill is here.

French’s argument is that the bill has First Amendment problems because it lacks a requirement that the harassment be “objectively offensive.”

I see his point, but I think he’s off the mark. The text of the bill requires that the harassment be:

sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at an institution of higher education, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment at an institution of higher education

That seems to me to be limiting enough to protect legitimate expressive interests. At the same time it seems specifically tailored to protecting a person’s ability to benefit from a federally funded educational program.

In fact, the bill’s current limitations seem to be more protective of free speech interests than an “objectively offensive” requirement would be by itself.

An objectively offensive requirement would presumably make a jury issue out of how far the content of the speech deviates from community norms. That sounds to me like a device that could marginalize minority viewpoints and cause more First Amendment problems than it solves.

At any rate, I certainly disagree with French’s assertion that the law’s “primary effect will be a greater chill on free expression.” I think the primary effect would be communicating to gay students society’s revulsion at gay-bashing, as well as our commitment to allowing all students, regardless of sexual orientation, to benefit from America’s educational opportunities.

Federal Law Would Require Colleges to Prohibit Harassment by Blog

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

U.S. Capitol dome in daytimeIn response to the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) have introduced in Congress the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, H.R. 6425.

Clementi killed himself by jumping from the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River after fellow students secretly videotaped an intimate encounter Clementi had with another man and uploaded it to the internet.

The bill specifically targets cyberbullying and thereby brings within its ambit blogging.

If enacted as law, H.R. 6425 would require higher-ed institutions, as a condition of participating in federal financial aid programs, to prohibit “harassment” of students by faculty, staff, and other students, whether that harassment is done on or off campus, and it would include harassment through the use of university computer networks.

Under the bill, “harassment” is defined as:

conduct, including acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility (including conduct that is undertaken in whole or in part, through the use of electronic messaging services, commercial mobile services, electronic communications, or other technology) that –

(I) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a program or activity at an institution of higher education, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment at an institution of higher education; and

(II) is based on a student’s actual or perceived — race; color; national origin; sex; disability; sexual orientation; gender identity; or religion.

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The bill would also establish a grant program for activities aimed at preventing harassment.

I’m not sure how much good this law would do. Will people sufficiently evil to do what was done to Tyler Clementi be deterred by a campus policy? It seems unlikely. But since you can’t legislate tolerance and compassion, I suppose you do what you can do. If nothing else, a new federal law would be an expression that our society’s self-ascribed moral character is incompatible with bullying young people on the basis of sexual orientation.

More: OpenCongress, NJ.com