A new bill moving forward in the Texas legislature could possibly criminalize sex jokes on campus, according to FIRE. The organization devoted to free speech on campus also expects a flood of “unmeritorious complaints” to Title IX offices at universities in the state.
According to an analysis by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Texas state bill SB 212 may include an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
“The absurd result of this legislation would be that, if the proposed regulations become final, faculty and staff at Texas’s universities could be sent to prison for failing to report speech and conduct that does not even constitute sexual harassment according to the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title IX on campus,” FIRE wrote in a blog post.
The primary purpose of the bill is to punish university administrators who fail to properly report sexual harassment and misconduct. Under the bill, those that fail to properly report these crimes could face criminal prosecution themselves.
FIRE also fears the bill, if passed, would lead to an avalanche of frivolous Title IX reports, including reports made solely because of a joke.
Enacting these provisions into law will force employees — including university faculty — to over-report, lest they risk a jail sentence, fine, and/or termination. This in turn will flood institutional Title IX offices with unmeritorious complaints, including instances of speech plainly protected by the First Amendment or institutional promises of freedom of expression. Sifting through this avalanche will squander institutional resources that could be far better devoted to pursuing serious complaints intentionally brought to the attention of Title IX officers.
The Texas Senate passed the bill at the end of March. It is now awaiting approval from the Texas House of Representatives. Some activists are now calling on Texas Governor Greg Abbott to veto the bill to protect free expression.
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