Speech First, Inc. v. Shrum

September 2022
Oklahoma State University (Public college or university)
Stillwater, OK

Identity of Speakers

  • Speech First, Inc.

    Speech First is a nationwide membership association of students, parents, faculty, alumni, and concerned citizens who nominally support free speech through advocacy, litigation and education.

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Not Clear
  • Incident Responses:
  • Incident Status:
    In litigation Federal District Court
    In litigation Federal Court of Appeals
  • Was Speech Code incident


Speech First, Inc. files suit against Oklahoma State University (OSU) over policies that they argue deter, suppress and punish students for constitutionally protected speech regarding political and social issues.  At issue were

(1) Code of Conduct and Harassment Policy that disciplines students who engage in speech that the University deems to be “intimidating,” “verbal abuse,” or other conduct that is “persistent, severe, or pervasive and “threatens or endangers the mental health” of another students.  Speech First argued that the Policy is vague, overbroad, and is a content-based restriction on protected speech.

(2) University computer policy that forbids students from using student email accounts or University network to “transmit[] political campaigning,” with a violation of the policy resulting in potential loss of privileges. Speech First argued that the Policy is vague, overbroad, and is a content-based restriction on protected speech.

(3) University’s bias-incidents policy which martials the authority of university administrators to police speech that someone believes is motivated by “bias,” which University defined as a “a disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is close-minded, prejudicial, or unfair.”  Under the policy, such “bias” incidents could occur on or off campus, including on social media.  Students accused of bias can be referred for formal displinary proceedings.  Speech first argued that this ” policy poses a grave risk of chilling the open and unfettered discourse that should be central to higher education. Its bureaucratic processes—and the vague, overbroad, and viewpoint-based definition of “bias incident” that triggers them—violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

In May, 2023, the District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma dismissed Speech First’s lawsuit, citing the anonymity of plaintiff’s members.  Later that month, Speech First appealed the District Court’s ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Five organizations, including the ACLU, filed amicus briefs in support of the appeal.  The appeal is ongoing.