As Americans across the country continue to react to the Supreme Court’s decision decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, eight American University law students are being investigated for criticizing in a private discussion group the draft opinion of the abortion ruling released last month.
Another student filed a harassment complaint against the chat group, arguing that their comments discriminated against him because of his religious and anti-abortion beliefs.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression shared chat log on its website, highlighting the comments of the eight unidentified students accused of harassment in yellow and the complainant’s posts in blue.
“I blame James Comey and that stupid fucking letter he sent in 2016,” wrote one student who took issue with the decision, referring to the former FBI director’s letter. sent to Congress two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, saying the office would investigate additional emails from Hillary Clinton. Many Democrats believe the move paved the way for Donald Trump to win the White House and appoint three conservative Supreme Court justices.
“What are they going to do next?” … Griswold, Oberefell, Magnet?” added the same student, citing other Supreme Court decisions protecting the use of contraceptives and the right of same-sex and interracial couples to marry.
The plaintiff replied, “James Comey is a patriot who served his country as Director of the FBI. Also as a Republican, I find it insulting that conservatives are seen as subverting the civil rights of people like Oberefell Where Magnet.”
Another student replied, “Can we shut up about personal opinions while people process this?” Another student sent an Instagram screenshot to the chat about a protest at the Supreme Court, which had a caption that read “abortion bans are class war.”
The complainant then wrote: “Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you are all more than welcome to protest. I find it interesting how the call to silence our personal opinions comes after standing up for my deep religious beliefs and yet no one has mentioned that same sentiment about pro-abortion posts. I was brought up to defend my values, so baseless claims that banning abortion is “class war” are deeply offensive to me and my Greek Orthodox faith.
“There was a request for information on the protests against abortion. Nobody asked you for your personal opinion,” read one student’s response. “If you don’t have the decency to shut up while people come to terms with the fact that they just lost a constitutional right, that says a lot about you.”
Another student wrote, “This issue of abortion does NOT affect you in the least because you live (I guess) in a male body which is not the regulated one. So STOP DOING THIS ABOUT YOURSELF and YOUR BELIEFS because it is not. It’s bigger than you and your opinions.
On May 25, American University’s Office of Equity and Title IX informed eight students who participated in the panel discussion that they were being investigated for violating the rules of the university. non-title IX discrimination and sexual misconduct policywhich prohibits all forms of discriminatory harassment.
“[The complainant] alleged that during the week of May 2, 2022, the Respondents submitted [the complainant] harassment on the basis of political affiliation and religious beliefs,” the opinion of the American University read. “Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants sent him harassing and threatening messages through the GroupMe social media platform because of his political affiliation and religious beliefs and that receiving these messages interfered with his unreasonably with his educational experience. [The student] identifies as Greek Orthodox Christian and Republican/Moderate-Conservative.
One of the law students under investigation, Daniel Brezina, spoke to FIRE of his dismay at the investigation; the other seven have not been identified and are not working with FIRE to publicize the case.
In an interview with Inside Higher EducationBrezina declined to say what comments he contributed to the group chat, but he noted that most students in the chat shared similar sentiments about conservatives on the Supreme Court.
“I was disappointed that they were investigating,” Brezina said. “I mean, it’s just talk. There was certainly no harassment. And I was just disappointed that the school had come to this.
Brezina said he wished the university would drop the investigation and that American would have conducted an informal investigation or pre-screened the group chat before starting a formal investigation. He added that the messages did not threaten the complainant.
“If there was maybe something really threatening, they might want to investigate, but it’s just a strong disagreement about access to abortion and the impact of the Supreme Court,” Brezina said.
Stuffy student talk
Brezina is not worried about the impact of the investigation on his career, but FIRE’s Alex Morey, director of the individual advocacy program, said such an investigation could cause lasting damage, potentially creating a barrier for law students when applying to the bar.
“Even if the investigation leads nowhere, [it] could theoretically prevent them from gaining future employment or create additional barriers to their banning,” Morey said. “So it’s not ‘just a survey,’ it’s a big issue that impacts the ability of these students – most of them are women and women of color, by the way. , who traditionally have less access to these kinds of careers.”
Morey said the investigation sets a precedent that could deter other students from speaking out.
“What does this say to other law students who want to have these kinds of heated discussions about constitutional law at American Law?” said Morey. “If they do [speak up] and offend someone, they could be accused of harassment and discrimination and ruin their future as a lawyer.
Morey added that the U.S. investigation is uncommon in higher education because many private institutions have “First Amendment”-style policies that protect student speech. american university freedom of expression and dissent policy “defends the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to express dissent, within the framework of the law and accountability for one’s actions”.
“When [private] schools don’t deliver this [free speech] promise, FIRE has a huge problem with that because they attract these high caliber students and faculty,” Morey said.
She added that the precedent is particularly troubling given Friday’s Supreme Court ruling ending federal abortion rights protections.
“Roe v. Wade and the Dobbs v. Jackson decision is the issue of the day in this country,” Morey said. “And that will certainly be the issue of the day at American Law. It’s the biggest and most important legal news right now, and American law students should be able to talk about it passionately and unfiltered, as part of their education. And to the extent that American could censor this discussion, it’s an absolute abomination.
Asked to comment on the investigation, a spokesperson for the American university wrote by email that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibits commenting on investigations involving students.
“American University is guided by its commitment to the right to free speech, including freedom to dissent within the law and accountability for one’s actions,” the spokesperson wrote. “The University’s Student Code of Conduct is designed to support a safe, honest and inclusive community with a shared commitment to act with mutual respect and forming the highest ethical and moral standards among its members. “
Brezina said the investigation made him reconsider the opinions he shares with other students.
“This is going to make me think twice about talking about various issues,” Brezina said. “I’m going to be a little more careful in what I say, lest someone accuse me of aiming [them], whether conservative or some kind of other ideological line. I might be a little more careful now just because I don’t want to start the process all over again.