Jennifer Schubert-Akin: Bill would reaffirm students’ First Amendment rights

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While Democrats and Republicans are increasingly polarized over contentious issues like healthcare and tax reform, they are quietly coalescing around the issue of free speech in states like Colorado.

Consider the free speech bill that unanimously passed Colorado’s House of Representatives last week. The bill reaffirms the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of assembly protections for students at Colorado’s public universities.

The bill was crafted by Democrat Rep. Jeff Bridges and conservative Republicans Rep. Stephen Humphrey and Sen. Tim Neville. It also had input from the Steamboat Institute’s Emerging Leaders Advisory Council members Marcus Fotenos and Colton Lyons, who are co-student body presidents at University of Colorado-Boulder.

The bill ensures the right of students to speak “in any way in a public forum” and forbids universities from imposing “unreasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of student speech.” In practice this means eliminating the use of so-called “free speech zones,” which cordon off speech to a particular spot on campus.

Free speech zones are a relic of the 1960s when Vietnam War protests were common. According to a tally by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, roughly one in six of the country’s top universities have free speech zones that shunt potentially disagreeable speech out of public view.

For instance, University of Colorado — Colorado Springs officials recently sent student Brandon Leiser to a free speech zone for campaigning on school property for then-U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn.

Of course, free speech zones are the height of irony. They restrict speech while ostensibly promoting it.

The First Amendment’s clause, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech” clearly implies all U.S. public property, including college campuses, are protected for free speech. In an Orwellian twist, attorneys for many universities posit that “unscheduled speech” must take place in the campus’ free speech zones. Fortunately, CU’s student government leaders recognized this irony and are leading the charge to restore free speech across campus.

But the arguments for protecting free speech extend beyond just constitutional principle and fundamental human rights. Free speech should also be encouraged on campus for its utilitarian aspects of fostering learning and understanding — the purpose of the college experience. College campuses have increasingly become ideological bubbles, which only can be pierced by exposing students to multiple points of view.

“Limiting speech on campus is completely antithetical to everything that university life stands for,” says Fotenos. “Restricting students’ ability to express their ideas freely diminishes the quality of debate and discussion that helps individuals progress in their thoughts and ideas.”

Yet at college campuses across the country, free speech is under attack. University of California, Berkeley officials were forced to cancel a planned speech by conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos earlier this year after students rioted and caused $100,000 worth of damage and physically attacked college Republicans.

Students at Middlebury College last month attacked a professor escorting conservative scholar Charles Murray, sending her to the emergency room with a concussion. A California State University of Los Angeles professor called on students to respond to micro-aggressions (perceived verbal slights) with macro-aggressions, i.e. physical violence. And a University of Missouri professor was fired last year after asking for “muscle” to forcibly stop a student from exercising his First Amendment rights.

This bill would help stop these abuses and protect Colorado’s students. It follows similar legislation to outlaw free speech zones and uphold the First Amendment in states like Virginia, North Dakota, and North Carolina.

The Steamboat Institute is committed to such free speech in both principle and practice. Its events, like its annual Freedom Conference, feature speakers who challenge the political status quo and could only occur in a country where free speech rights are sacrosanct.

In today’s climate of growing partisanship, it’s heartening to see politicians from both sides of the political spectrum coming together to support this founding principle. Hopefully, they can continue this momentum on others.

Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the CEO of the Steamboat Institute.

Comments

Ken Mauldin 1 month ago

"The bill reaffirms the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of assembly protections for students at Colorado’s public universities." Colorado passed a Bill to "reaffirm" Constitutional protections!? Why not enforce existing Constitutional protections?

State employees that violate citizen's Constitutional Rights of free expression should be prosecuted without hesitation, not faced with another duplicitous State law.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 month ago

It is sad to think that a bill has to be passed to be sure free speech is allowed when free speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution. You just can't make this stuff up.

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Eric Morris 1 month ago

Beating a dead horse here (killed by Lincoln's War), but the first amendment to the US Constitution should not matter except on federal lands, forts like Carson and the USAFA, and in The Swamp. Hopefully the bill cited the proper section of the Colorado Bill of Rights.

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Brian Kotowski 1 month ago

I second Dan's remarks. Even more insidious is that our fascist friends on the left have the gall to impose what they ludicrously call "free speech zones" on college campi - outside of which thou shalt be punished for speaking freely; inside of which only approved "free speech" will be permitted. And then only only after campus overlords have studied & approved the proposed content of said "free speech." But they'll happily turn a blind eye to the rioting and violence their lefty drones deploy to shut down that very same "free speech." So they've go that going for them.

Colorado SB 62 is a nice idea, but I fear it amounts to pissing into the wind. Sanctuary cities were illegal too, when last I checked.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month ago

Hi Eric - The 14th Amendment binds each State to the Bill of Rights and resolved the issue you mention. Otherwise, each State could establish an official State religion, for example. Because State Assemblies aren't "Congress," they weren't restricted by the First Amendment's Establishment Clause that reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

The passage of the 14th Amendment guarantees that individually enumerated Constitutional Rights are protected throughout the States and US Territory.

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Scott Wedel 1 month ago

Free speech is allowed on campuses in designated areas which the courts have ruled is sufficient to protect free speech rights

The issue that triggered the need for free speech zones is that some people with bad manners were claiming free speech rights gave them the right to what courts stated as being racial, religious or sexual harassment. That a Sikh, for instance, has a right to walk between classes without some bigots following and harassing him as a "raghead and terrorist" and then claiming free speech.

The courts have ruled that a college campus is also a place of business and so students can sue for being harassed and that a campus becomes liable if they allow students to be harassed.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month ago

Hi Scott - There is no basis for your assertion that the Courts have allowed the restriction of free speech Rights on public college campuses. A couple of weeks ago, I called the Colorado Attorney General's Office and Senator Baumgardner's office to request that they provide any Court precedence that allows public employees to restrict free expression on public property that would warrant this Bill and have still received no response.

I also contacted FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) at the same time with the same question and they responded immediately. A FIRE staff member assured me that there was no Court precedence that allows for the restriction of First Amendment Rights on public college campuses and referred me to relevant published documents at www.thefire.org. />
Here's a link to FIRE's Administrator's Guide "Correcting Common Mistakes in Campus Speech Policies"
https://www.thefire.org/spotlight/correcting-common-mistakes-in-campus-speech-policies/

From the FIRE guide linked above: "After all, as government entities, all public colleges and universities are legally bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution."

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Brian Kotowski 1 month ago

On the other hand, perhaps academia is on the right track - it's hard to ignore the typically self-righteous and pompous outrage triggered at snowflake havens like Edgewood College (emphases & bracketed commentary mine), where authorities were called to investigate the most egregious of hate crimes: Edgewood College calls the police over “suck it up” Post-it note [you got that, folks? Not "notes" plural - A. Single. Post It. Note.]

We owe eternal obeisance to the Gentle, Loving, and Almighty Gaia for producing fearless warriors like Edgewood College Vice President Tony Chambers, who unequivocally condemned this "cowardly act of hatred and intimidation."

Under the inspired leadership of Vice President Chambers, staff from Human Resources, the offices of Student Conduct, Title IX, and Diversity were mobilized to configure an appropriate response to this "hateful message." According to the intrepid and daring Vice President Chambers “the group determined that the message constituted a Hate Crime, based on guidelines from the Jeanne Clery Act and state law.” He adds the group acted according to college policy and reported the incident to the Madison, Wisconsin Police Department, which is currently investigating it as a “Hate Crime.”

That's how you get things done, folks. If only the Dems had run the indomitable and courageous Vice President Chambers, instead of Hillary.

Yep, that's the ticket. I hereby withdraw my support of Colorado SB 62, as it is clearly insensitive to the simpering pansies among us.

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Eric Morris 1 month ago

Ken, why didn't incorporation start happening until 1920's? Why is it still only selective? Why have States at all? Why need for 15th Amendment if already essentially covered and especially incorporated by 14th?

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Ken Mauldin 1 month ago

Some division of municipal authority is required to create and maintain a federalist system. Within our federalist system, we call those divisions States. The 15th Amendment was required because the Right to vote is not articulated in the Bill of Rights.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month ago

Here's the "why" that I missed before. "The bill prohibits public institutions of higher education (public institution) from limiting or restricting student expression in a student forum." (emphasis added.)
http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/sb17-062

The language of this Bill only refers to a "student," not a person, persons, resident, citizen, faculty, staff or administrator. Only a "student" will be protected by this Bill, once signed into law. This would protect a 'student's expression' during a 'student forum' like a student club meeting or other college function from being silenced by a professor or administrator with an opposing view.

It's unfortunate, and telling of the mindset of many college administrators, that students need to be protected from professors that would not allow for a free exchange of ideas. I'm happy to see it passed unanimously.

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Eric Morris 1 month ago

Ken, so one thing is explicitly stated (voting in 15th) but the rest is implicit, but only through due process clause but not through "privileges and immunities" or "equal protection" of 14th (unless it is gay marriage but not minority voting?)? And all decided by the Feds, of course. The only power the states have against this are nullification and secession.

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Ken Mauldin 1 month ago

Hi Eric - You'd have to get in a time machine to ask the members of Congress in the 19th century why the debate didn't include gay marriage and minority voting. Progressive income tax violates equal protection of the laws but it was determined (unfortunately) that some Amendments are more equal than others. See: practical application of the 16th Amendment conflicts with the 14th Amendment. Yes, nullification and secession are options the States have against the misadventures of the Federal government. The States also have the option to meet under Article 5 and amend the Constitution without Congress' involvement.

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Scott Wedel 1 month ago

If the colleges were illegally limiting free speech rights then affected students or organizations would have little problems going to court to overturn the unconstitutional campus rules. And there are colleges that made overly broad rules on speech that have been overturned by the courts.

But what triggered college administrators to make these rules is that students won court cases claiming harassment and that there were immediate significant consequences. If a gay student on the way to a test walks past a group saying nasty things about gays, becomes upset and then does poorly on the test then the student can claim immediate significant harm. And some of the cases were awful facts where someone was targeted as they walked across campus only for the perpetrator(s) to claim it was free speech allowed by campus policies.

Those sort of cases and potential cases scared administrators because it isn't so easy to repair the harm suffered by the student. Not easy to let students say this or that upset them and they would like to take the test at another time. It is much easier for the college to say that their policies allow students to get from campus housing to campus class without being harassed.

So yeah, some administrators got over protective limiting speech, but courts have since ruled on what are acceptable policies.

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Brian Kotowski 1 month ago

Look kids - it's springtime, and trolls have returned from Capistrano! To wit [emphasis mine]: "If the colleges were illegally limiting free speech rights then affected students or organizations would have little problems going to court to overturn the unconstitutional campus rules."

They have, they are, and they continue to do so. But since it doesn't fit the preferred narrative, the mainstream media never reports on it. The better to keep the sheeple fat, dumb, and happy.

Often, it's the mere threat of litigation that sends the fascists back to their sewers. FIRE (the non-profit alluded to earlier in this discussion by Ken, and on the vanguard of this battle for the last 20 years) routinely administers the necessary bitch slaps. For example, when Brandeis University threatened 3 of its students with disciplinary action - including expulsion - for publishing an article in the campus rag about a lefty student protest, FIRE sent them packing without ever taking them to court.

4 months ago in L.A., Pierce College student Kevin Shaw was distributing Spanish-language copies of the Constitution as part of a recruitment effort for the student group Young Americans for Liberty (this does not equate to "being harassed", regardless of any shrieking to the contrary emanating from the simpering pansies among us). Pierce College administration thugs told him to stop or get booted off campus. FIRE just filed; we'll see where it goes. I'll wager the Pierce totalitarians back down in the end.

For the last 9 years, FIRE has been publishing its The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses report, wherein it evaluates each institution's harassment and hate speech policies, as well as any "Advertised Commitments to Freedom of Speech". In its 1st report, something like 75% were rated "red" (worst case scenarios). As of 2016 that percentage is down in the mid-30s.

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Larry Desjardin 3 weeks, 5 days ago

I'm happy to see this legislation. In an ideal world it wouldn't be needed, but public universities have been too quick to restrict speech to their own political and style preferences. A private university can set whatever speech standards they wish, but it is established legal precedent that a public university doing so is an extension of government limiting speech. Unfortunately, this continues as a common practice. I recommend the legal blog from the Washington Post, Volokh Conspiracy, to follow this and other constitutional issues. Eugene Volokh is one of the premier scholars of the 1st Amendment.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/?utm_term=.4dcec9299aad

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