Georgia Tech has agreed to retract a policy banning offensive speech on campus as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit against the university.
The lawsuit, filed in March by two students, claims that Georgia Tech discriminates against students with policies aimed at protecting the campus from intolerance. The policies have a "chilling effect" on students who dissent from the university's "orthodoxy," according to the lawsuit.
The partial settlement was reached Aug. 8 when Georgia Tech agreed to repeal the parts of a campus policy that prohibit verbal attacks on individuals because of racial, ethnic or sexual identity. The university also agreed to withdraw a portion of the policy banning the posting of derogatory signs on university property.
The Georgia Tech policy still bans physical assaults because of racial, ethnic or sexual identity.
"It's a big win for free speech," said David French, attorney for students Orit Sklar and Ruth Malhotra. "It really does give all Georgia Tech students more rights to free speech - not just the plaintiffs."
French is director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group that promotes family values, a ban on abortion and the posting of the Ten Commandments in courts, among other issues.
He said both Sklar and Malhotra were not allowed to express their points of view on hot-button issues like affirmative action and women's rights, while Georgia Tech allowed other students to harass and threaten the two students because of their views. The two students organized protests on campus that were shut down by the university, he said.
Georgia Tech spokesman David Terraso declined comment other than to say the university is moving forward on the two other parts of the case.
The lawsuit also claims that Georgia Tech discriminates against religious student groups by not giving them university funding. Such a ban on using state money for religious groups is common at public universities across the country.
The final claim in the lawsuit is that Georgia allowed a gay group on campus, "Safe Space," to push a political and religious agenda during voluntary training programs for staff and students. A manual for the program describes different religions' opinions on the morality of homosexuality, which French says violates constitutional law.
"The state can't prefer one view to another like that," he said.
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