Sen. John McCain Challenges DOJ over Sexual Harassment Definition, Says it Violates Free Speech

Washington, D.C. – Sen. John McCain may not be overly concerned about an American’s right to privacy since he defended the NSA’s spying tactics,  but he won’t stand by and let the feds step on your right to say sexy things to your peers on college campuses.

In late May, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued directives to the University of Montana after the university came under fire after a rash of sexual assaults and harassment. In the directive, the Departments essentially redefined what constitutes as sexual harassment.

The new definition raised the hackles of civil liberty groups, who criticized the new definition by claiming that it violated a college student’s right to free speech, and essentially makes it a violation of sexual harassment policy to ask a person out for a date, especially if they become offended.

In the extensive report, the Departments of Justice and Education, sexual harassment was redefined as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” even if an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation” would not perceive the behavior as offensive.

To the some groups, this meant that simply telling a person they are attractive or asking them out on date would constitute as sexual harassment. One very vocal critic, Greg Luikanoff  of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said, “In 2011, the Department of Education took a hatchet to due process protections for students accused of sexual misconduct. Now the Department of Education has enlisted the help of the Department of Justice to mandate campus speech codes so broad that virtually every student will regularly violate them.”

The DOJ responded to FIRE stating that the agreement with the University of Montana “did not create any new or broader definition of unlawful sexual harassment.” The agencies further stated that colleges and universities are required “to examine both whether the conduct is objectively offensive and its subjective impact on an individual,” the Huffington Post

But Sen. John McCain was not satisfied with that clarification and has since seized upon the controversy.  Sen. McCain has sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking that they clarify the policy, and challenged their authority to revise Title V, the Huffington Post reported. McCain also directly asked the DOJ if asking a person out on a date could be construed as sexual harassment and asserted the new definition “may pose a threat to academic freedom in the classroom.”

The DOJ, however, has repeatedly insisted that their agreement with the University of Montana is merely a “blueprint,” not “the blueprint.”

Dena Iverson of the DOJ’s Office of Civil Rights told the Huffington Post that they are reviewing Sen. McCain’s letter, but has issued a statement:

“The Department’s agreement with the University of Montana is constitutional, requires necessary reforms to ensure a safe environment for all students, and follows well established OCR guidance defining ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘a hostile environment.’ To ensure students are not discouraged from reporting harassment, the agreement allows students to report when they have been subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct, and requires the University to evaluate whether that conduct created ‘a hostile environment.’”

Sen. McCain has asked the DOJ to respond to his letter by July 17th.