VIRGINIA (WFXR) — According to Courthouse News Service, on Wednesday, May 31, a fourth circuit majority agreed with a district court that Virginia Tech’s Bias Response Team does not have a “chilling effect” on free speech.

“Our country rightfully places great value on the freedom of speech, and any statute or regulation implicating speech receives close scrutiny,” the ruling states. “Freedom of speech, after all, is expressly protected in the very first of the original amendments to our Constitution. But the First Amendment does not stand in the way of modest efforts to encourage civility on college campuses.”

The opinion penned by U.S. Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz came after oral arguments in October. The organization Speech First, which protects free speech on college campuses, brought the lawsuit against Virginia Tech in 2021 to block the University’s biased response procedure. The procedure allows students to make anonymous reports to a group of Virginia Tech officials regarding students they believe are participating in biased actions. The reported student will then be asked to voluntarily meet with the group about why their views may be problematic.

Speech First also expressed concern with the university’s policy that requires students to get approval for petitioning or setting up tables on campus due to the possibility that certain students would be turned down due to their conservative beliefs. The district court previously held that Speech First lacked standing to challenge the bias response team, and the Fourth Circuit has affirmed the decision.

“Speech First has not shown that the bias policy credibly threatens injury to the organization’s members,” the opinion states. “And for this reason, Speech First’s members have not demonstrated the injury, in fact, necessary to establish standing.”

The response team does have the authority to refer conduct that may not be constitutionally protected and that may violate Virginia Tech’s student code of conduct or the law to higher authorities.

“The record establishes that the BIRT [Bias Intervention and Response Team] does not even extend an invitation for a voluntary conversation in response to every complaint it receives,” Motz wrote. “Rather, the BIRT often dismisses complaints because they involve constitutionally protected activity.”

However, the sentiment was not unanimous.

“The stark reality of the record is that programs like the Bias Intervention and Response Team are being used in the service of discouraging that open inquiry from which education draws its very meaning and sustenance,” U.S. Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in his dissenting opinion.

Motz disagreed with Wilkinson, writing that the dissent was “misguided” and that she considered the history of university campus dialogue.

“With this history in mind, many universities — Virginia Tech among them — find it equally vital to communicate that their campuses are places welcoming to all students, whatever those students’ backgrounds and whatever their political, social, or religious views,” she wrote. “Just as universities may legitimately strive to promote intellectual curiosity, so too they may legitimately strive to promote civility and a sense of belonging among the student body.”

Speech First has brought other cases against universities in the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits, seeking a preliminary injunction. However, in each district, the court denied the motion for lack of standing.