Speech First, Inc. v. Killeen

May 2019
University of Illinois (Public college or university)
Peoria, Illinois, USA

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
  • Incident Responses:
  • Incident Status:
    In litigation Federal Court of Appeals
  • No protest Occured
  • Was Speech Code incident


The University of Illinois’s Student Code requires that students gain “prior approval” from the University to “post and distribute leaflets, handbills, and other types of materials” that are “promotional materials of candidates for non-campus elections.” Students that distribute non-campus candidate material before receiving approval are subject to disciplinary action, including reprimand, censure, probation, or dismissal from the University. The University also has a prohibition against “bias-motivated” speech, which it defines as an “action or expression” that is “motivated, at least in part, by prejudice against or hostility toward a person (or group) because of that person’s (or group’s) actual or perceived age, disability/ability status, ethnicity, gender, gender identity/expression, national origin, race, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, etc.” This speech prohibition is enforced through the University’s Bias Assessment and Response Team (“BART”). BART collects reports of bias, investigates those reports, and, if it determines a bias incident has occurred, imposes appropriate “corrective measures,” including education programs, mediation, or resolution agreements. If BART knows the identity of the person who perpetrated the bias, that incident will go on that individual’s permanent record. The prohibition on bias-motivated speech extends to the University’s residential housing units. University officials, in addition to traditional punishment mechanisms, are able to issue “No Contact Directives,” which effectively order a student not to have contact with another student. If a student violates a No Contact Directive, he or she can be dismissed from the University. On May 30, 2019, Speech First filed suit against the University and its officials, claiming that the “prior approval” policy, the “bias-motivated incidents” policy, and the “No Contact Directives” policy violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. On September 17, 2019, a federal judge in the Central District of Illinois denied Speech First’s Motion for Preliminary injunction, holding: (1) the challenge to the “prior approval” requirement was moot, since that provision was removed from the Student Code and (2) that Speech First lacked appropriate standing to bring its other claims against the “bias-motivated speech” policy or the “No Contact Directive” policy. Speech First appealed that decision to the Seventh Circuit. Oral argument was heard on February 27, 2020.