A state Representative said public universities that limit the free speech of faculty and students should not get taxpayer dollars.

The University of Illinois has been sued by a Virginia-based group called Speech First over policies the group said are designed to silence students. The 29-page lawsuit accuses the university of limiting free speech on campus through “prior approval” policies for leaflets and through a bias-response team meant to investigate complaints about certain speech, the Champaign News-Gazette reported.

“We are aware of the filing and will review it and respond appropriately,” University of Illinois spokesperson Chris Harris said.

State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, took to the House floor before it adjourned earlier this month and explained how some feel targeted by a bias assessment and response team.

“It specifically alleged that this team has been used to target conservatives and religious students, students who are pro Israel and others who are at disproportionate risk of ostracism, punishment and retaliation from the administration,” she said.

Mazzochi said that even in the House there may be unpopular or mean-spirited exchanges. But that doesn’t stop conversations from taking place.

“Even in this body we often hear speech that is rude, biased, wrong, hurtful, emotional, offensive, hateful and sometimes even vile and the answer to that is never to suppress speech, but to counter it with more speech,” Mazzochi said. “And to follow any other path renders our society less free, accountable and less able to seek the truth no matter how much that truth may hurt.”

The university said it fosters free speech on campus.

“The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is deeply committed to the core values of free speech and free expression and to the open exchange of competing ideas and perspectives,” Harris said.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Urbana seeks the court to find the university’s use of bias-response teams violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment free speech rights and a temporary injunction barring the university from such practices while the lawsuit is pending.

Mazzochi said while she doesn’t know if the case has merit, she wanted to go a step further to propose that no public campus should get tax dollars if it doesn't allow free speech.

“This state should not be funding speech police who try to leverage their institutional power to oppress student, faculty or staff viewpoints,” Mazzochi said.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.