Four US states are considering legislation that would ensure free speech on college campuses and prohibit universities from shielding people from offensive and controversial ideas.
Most states were put on alert after the eruption of violence at the University of California, Berkeley, where Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a speech. His event was cancelled over safety fears.
President Trump has put the issue of free speech on campus in the spotlight after he threatened to withdraw federal funds from universities that don’t honor the First Amendment rights.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Earlier this week, the Virginia’s House of Delegates passed bill HB1301 aimed at protecting freedom of speech on campus. The bill reaffirms that public colleges and universities in the state are covered by the First Amendment.
The full text of the law reads: “Except as otherwise permitted by the First Amendment to the Constitution, no public institution of higher education shall abridge the freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests, to speak on campus.”
House Democratic leader David Toscano celebrated the bill, saying: “Any time we have the chance to support the First Amendment we should do that.”
“It’s a good idea to celebrate the First Amendment. We want our campuses to be noisy, we want people to debate things,” he added.
In Colorado, the Senate Education Committee approved a bill defending the constitutionally granted rights of Colorado students. The bill would prohibit government funded colleges from restricting students’ First Amendment rights to free speech in any way. According to the draft of the bill, free speech includes speaking, distributing materials, or holding a sign.
The bill also requires converting existing so-called “free speech zones”—a campus phenomena where only at certain places students are able to exercise free speech—into monuments or memorials.
“Free speech zones are counterintuitive to our core values, we should never falter in our defense of our constitutional rights or confine a free exchange of ideas,” explained Senator Tim Neville, who introduced the bill.
“Students on Colorado campuses are growing into the leaders of tomorrow, and restricting their fundamental rights as they seek out truth and knowledge is contrary to the American spirit as well as the mission of universities,” he added.
North Dakota is also considering a bill to fight the onslaught of “safe spaces” and ensure the Constitution that guarantees free speech is protected in the state’s public universities.
Republican State Rep. Rick Becker sponsor of House Bill 1329, said the proposed legislation is a response to an “attitude that free speech is not free speech” at universities, where free expression is stifled by university policy.
“There is an atmosphere of political correctness and social justice that will lead to safe spaces and this whole concept on every campus,” he said. “We have to put a stop to it now.”
The bill would “confirm free speech as a fundamental right” and demand the governing body of the North Dakota University System to a ratify a policy of free speech.
The policy would require a commitment to “free and open inquiry by students in all matters” and outlaw any restrictions on speech, unless it violates other laws or disrupts the university’s functions.
It would also require to contain a “bill of student rights” that would prohibit colleges in North Dakota from subjecting students to “any nonacademic punishment, discipline or censorship” for exercising their free speech.
Becker cited the violence last week at the University of California, Berkeley during the protests against Milo Yiannopoulos, claiming there’s a growth of anti-speech rhetoric on college campuses.
The State’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest has announced his intention to work with the General Assembly to pass the Restore Campus Free Speech act, a law closely based on the model campus free speech legislation that would guarantee free speech at universities.
North Carolina will be the first state to use the model law by the Goldwater Institute think tank and turn it into an actual legislative proposal. As Heat Street has reported, the model proposal includes a tough legal regime to ensure free speech.
The law would prohibit colleges in North Carolina from banning speakers, creating safe spaces with the intention of shielding students from certain ideas and opinions, harsh sanctions for those limiting free speech – including expulsion, and even a $1,000 fine if university violates free speech rights.