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Feds back away from new campus speech restrictions

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Beltway Confidential,Education,Joel Gehrke,Freedom of Speech,Justice Department

Federal officials are easing up on the implementation of a speech code for college campuses, now saying that the policy only applies to the University of Montana, for which it was originally developed.

"[I]n a letter sent last week to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the new head of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Catherine Lhamon, said that 'the agreement in the Montana case represents the resolution of that particular case and not OCR or [Justice Department] policy,'" FIRE announced Friday.

The policy came about following a joint Justice-Education investigation into sexual assaults that allegedly took place at the University of Montana.

"Members of the University of Montana football team were treated as 'gods' and were 'allowed to get away with anything,' including sexual assault, members of the university community told federal officials, according to a report released Thursday," the Huffington Post noted in May.

FIRE explained that "the Montana agreement included an overly broad definition of punishable sexual harassment: 'any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,' including 'verbal conduct' (i.e., speech). This definition could potentially cover risque movies, stand-up comedy routines, and even books like Lolita."

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