In a criminal prosecution of four former fraternity members, a state judge ruled yesterday that the Illinois Hazing Act’s broad definition of “hazing” is sufficiently clear to withstand a constitutional challenge. The fraternity members are charged with a felony relating to the death of a college freshman after fraternity-related alcohol consumption in November 2012. The Act prohibits anyone from requiring a student, for the purpose of gaining acceptance into any official group connected with an educational institution, to perform any act not authorized by the institution, if the act results in bodily harm to any person. The four fraternity members argued that this definition does not sufficiently clarify what acts are illegal and leaves too much discretion to police. Judge John McAdams in Dekalb County, Illinois disagreed, upheld the law, and confirmed the State’s legitimate interest in providing a safe environment at school.

The anti-hazing law applies to all educational institutions in Illinois (colleges, universities, community colleges, and K-12 schools) and calls for among the stiffest penalties of any other state. Any hazing violation can result in up to 364 days of imprisonment plus as much as a $5,000 fine. If hazing results in gross bodily harm or death, penalties increase to one to three years imprisonment and up to a $25,000 fine.

This decision offers an excellent opportunity for all educational institutions to remind students and student organizations about the seriousness of avoiding hazing of any kind, and to inform them of the importance of anti-hazing laws and campus policies. Indeed, many school policies prohibit an even broader range of hazing conduct than the Illinois Hazing Act, including actions that endanger mental health (not just physical health) or safety of anyone or that cause harm to public or private property. Warning students of the recently confirmed potential for criminal liability from any act that fits within the statute’s broad definition of “hazing” could help limit or stop dangerous hazing incidents from occurring.