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What are ‘bias response teams’ and why are they at the center of a lawsuit over First Amendment rights?

Students walk across the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Students walk across the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

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A nonprofit civil liberties watchdog group filed a lawsuit against the University of Michigan over its speech code, alleging it is unconstitutional.

Speech First, an on-campus advocacy group focusing on free speech issues, alleges that Michigan’s student code and Bias Response Team violate the First Amendment by forbidding speech that would usually be protected.

The University of Michigan disciplinary code prohibits “harassment” and “bullying,” and increases the penalties if such actions are motivated by “bias.” Michigan defines harassment as “unwanted negative attention perceived as intimidating, demeaning, or bothersome to an individual,” according to reports. “The most important indication of bias is your own feelings,” the university advises students. It also encourages students to “report if they have been the target or witness of a bias incident.” 

So where do we draw the line between what is considered harassment and the right of free speech? 


Eugene Volokh, professor of law at UCLA; he tweets @VolokhC

Jody Armour, professor of law at USC; he tweets @NiggaTheory

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