ACLU of Indiana sues to stop law that infringes on professors’ free speech

A federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday challenges a controversial new Indiana law aimed at steering speech and course content in college classrooms toward “intellectual diversity.”

The lawsuit, brought forth by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana, contends that Senate Enrolled Act 202 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The law, signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in March, mandates that all Indiana public colleges and universities implement policies that stifle or mandate the speech of faculty members, as alleged in a news release.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two professors at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Steven A. Carr, a communication professor and director of the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and David G. Schuster, an associate professor in the history department, are the plaintiffs.

According to the ACLU of Indiana, Purdue University is named as the defendant because it is compelled to enforce the allegedly unconstitutional provisions of the law.

The lawsuit states, “Although Professors Carr and Schuster both already seek to foster a culture of free inquiry in their classrooms, this does not mean that they believe it is appropriate to provide equal time or attention to all lines of questioning.”

Concerns of Professors

The law mandates that professors face disciplinary action if they do not promote “free inquiry, free expression, and intellectual diversity” and expose students to various political or ideological frameworks. The plaintiffs fear being “compelled to speak or prohibited from speaking,” violating their First Amendment rights, and risking adverse employment actions.

The ACLU of Indiana highlighted the professors’ concerns that the law might require faculty to present discredited theories alongside academic analysis in their classes.

The lawsuit details specific course content concerns raised by the professors. Schuster, who teaches about United States history post-civil war, includes the “culture wars” surrounding the LGBTQ rights movement in the 1990s in his curriculum.

Moreover, Schuster’s teachings on slavery and its aftermath suggest that he should not be compelled to present divergent scholarly perspectives, including views that portray slavery as beneficial to African Americans.

Carr’s work on the Holocaust also faces scrutiny under the law, as divergent perspectives on the genocide range from denial to revisionist accounts of its scope and causes.

The lawsuit aims to block the law’s unconstitutional provisions before it takes effect on July 1 to safeguard the professors’ free speech rights.

“SEA 202 places Indiana’s professors in an impossible position, stripping them of academic freedom that the Supreme Court has long recognized they possess,” stated ACLU of Indiana attorney Stevie Pactor. “No professor should have to compromise between their job and their First Amendment rights.”

Overview of the Legislation

Senate Enrolled Act 202, one of the most contentious higher education bills this year, aims to enhance “intellectual diversity” in publicly funded college classrooms.

Despite opposition from faculty and students, the governor approved the bill into law, emphasizing its promotion of academic freedom and protection of faculty expressing diverse viewpoints.

The law revises institutions’ diversity-related roles, tenure policies, and performance reviews and introduces new reporting and survey mandates focusing on free inquiry, expression, and intellectual diversity.

Indiana now requires diversity committees on college campuses, recommending strategies for recruiting and retaining underrepresented students.

Additionally, the legislation mandates a five-year review process for Indiana’s education institutions and establishes complaint procedures enabling students and staff to report faculty members not meeting free-expression standards.

Overall, the law aims to foster diversity of thought and expression on college campuses, though critics argue it may intrude on academic freedom.

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