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University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alters 'bias reporting system' following First Amendment challenge

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee altered its bias reporting system to take into account the freedom of speech guaranteed in the First Amendment.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) updated its bias reporting system (BRS) following a legal demand letter sent by Southeastern Legal Foundation’s (SLF) which warned that the university's BRS infringed on students’ First Amendment freedom of speech. 

The university's bias reporting system encourages students and faculty who have experienced an incident of bias or hate to submit a report to the institution's Office of Equity/Diversity Services. "The purpose of the reporting system is to provide support and resources to affected parties," the university's website states. 

Previously on its website, UWM did not explain that hate speech and offensive speech are protected by the First Amendment and that students cannot be punished for engaging in so-called hate speech.

Bias reporting systems "unconstitutionally chill freedom of expression because they allow anyone on campus to report students for perceived bias incidents," leading students to self-censor for fear they will be punished for offending other students, SLF wrote.

"Bias reporting systems have become a tool to scare conservative students into silence because they are typically the ones engaging in open debate and discourse," SLF General Counsel Kimberly Hermann said. "We stand behind those students, and we are pleased that UWM has met its duty to protect the speech of every student on campus."

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UWM updated its website to clarify that students who are reported for the words that they say, will not be punished. In addition, the university now provides a link to its free speech policy to ensure students know their rights if they are reported. 

"Hate or bias incidents do not necessarily violate the law or university policy," UWM writes on its website. "As a public university, UWM is bound by the First Amendment and will not sanction or punish a member of the university community for exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression."

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"The term ‘hate speech’ is used to describe hateful comments that demean a person or group of people based on their personal characteristics such as race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation," the statement continues. "This is often misunderstood, but what people call ‘hate speech’ is protected by the First Amendment."

In situations where speech is protected by the First Amendment and not subject to sanction, UWM said it "is committed to providing care and support to those impacted by hateful and offensive speech and expression through the hate/bias reporting process and the RRT."

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"Too many colleges engage in censorship these days and encourage students to censor each other," Director of SLF’s 1A Project Cece O'Leary said. "Students should be free to engage in open debate and discourse without fear of retribution."

"We are glad that UWM has fixed this problem on its campus by ensuring that speech is protected so that students can make the most of their four years," she added. 

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The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment. 

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