PHILADELPHIA — Two of the state's public universities — Temple and Penn State — are suppressing students' free-speech rights through vaguely worded behavioral policies that should be abolished, according to a pair of lawsuits filed this week in federal court.
Penn State has "an Orwellian speech code" that stifles discussion of controversial views and encourages students to report acts of "intolerance" to the university, sophomore Alfred Fluehr contends in his suit.
Temple subjected graduate student Christian DeJohn to "a campaign of retribution and retaliation" because his views on the Iraq war clashed with those of his professors, DeJohn's lawsuit says.
The complaints, which also seek unspecified monetary damages, were filed Feb. 22 by attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Temple does not comment on pending litigation, said spokesman Ray Betzner.
A Penn State spokesman denied any violation of the Constitution.
"Penn State doesn't have a speech code and we don't know why someone would claim that we do," said university spokesman Tysen Kendig. "Speech is clearly protected by the First Amendment."
Alliance Defense Fund lawyer David French says Penn State might not call its regulations a "speech code," but the practical effect is to limit expression.
Penn State's student guide forbids any act of "intolerance," which includes "an attitude, feeling, or belief wherein an individual behaves with contempt for other individuals or groups," according to the lawsuit.
The broad policy causes Fluehr, a political science major, to "self-censor" his conservative views because someone might perceive them as intolerant, French said.
Fluehr's suit names the university and its president, Graham Spanier, as defendants.
The Temple suit — which names the university, President David Adamany and professors Richard Immerman and Gregory Urwin as defendants — contends DeJohn was denied his master's degree in history because of his support for the military.
The complaint seeks to grant DeJohn, a National Guard member, his degree. It also seeks to eliminate what it contends is an overly broad policy on sexual harassment at the school, though DeJohn has never been accused of that.
DeJohn was one of a small number of students who aired their complaints last month before a state legislative panel investigating whether Pennsylvania's public colleges and universities are hospitable to divergent intellectual and political views.
At the time, Immerman and Urwin testified DeJohn's academic troubles were based on educational issues and not his military views.