Federal Government Needs to Clarify Its Overly Broad Definition of "Sexual Harassment" on Campus, Says Free Speech Group


As I blogged a few weeks back:

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is alarmed…at a letter from the Departments of Justice and Education to the University of Montana….[which] "explicitly states that it is intended as "a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country," the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment."

The federal government has responded to the controversy, and FIRE now responds to them in this press release. Excerpts:

[The Department of Education's] OCR's [Office of Civil Rights'] new statement contradicts its May 9 letter. For example, in the statement sent yesterday, OCR contends that "the May 9 letter explains that 'sexual harassment' is unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature but that sexual harassment is not prohibited by Title IX unless it creates a 'hostile environment.'" But the May 9 letter includes no such explanation. To the contrary, the May 9 letter flatly states that "[s]exual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX and Title IV"—and then proceeds to define "sexual harassment" as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," including "verbal" conduct….

"The Office for Civil Rights' weak attempt to walk back its disastrous May 9 letter is too little, too late," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "OCR's belated lip service to freedom of expression following a national firestorm of criticism is hardly sufficient to undo the damage of a 47-page 'blueprint' that doesn't once mention the First Amendment or freedom of speech. FIRE calls on OCR to immediately issue a swift and detailed retraction and clarification to every college and university in the country."  

"OCR argues that a broad definition of sexual harassment encourages reporting, but mandating that state and private employees must report protected expression to authorities as 'harassment' is no more acceptable than requiring the reporting of 'unpatriotic' speech as treason," Lukianoff continued."….

Matt Welch interviewed FIRE's Greg Lukianoff for Reason TV a couple weeks ago: