Opposing Campus Free Speech

To be sure, there are plenty of nuanced reasons for legislators to vote against bills that sound perfectly good on their face. As a general rule, it’s wise to be just a little suspicious of everything that seeks to clothe itself with the force and legitimacy of law. But occasionally, a bill comes along that appears to be magnanimous in every respect. Or, in laymen’s terms: “Ain’t nobody crazy enough to vote against that bill.”

Hypothetically speaking, these are bills like “Resolved, that ice-cream is delicious,” or “Resolved, that freedom is good.” Well of course ice-cream is delicious and of course freedom is a good thing. This is America, after all, and there are just some core principles that come standard-issued.

Monday, in the House Education Committee, Delegate Steve Landes (R-25, Verona) presented a bill that falls safely into this category. It seeks to reinforce campus free speech, presumably in response to the growing instances of colleges across the nation actively suppressing free speech with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” for those who wish to express a non-orthodox viewpoint. But the language is straightforward and inclusive, applying with equal force to people of all opinions.

HB 1401 reads, in its entirety:

Except as otherwise permitted by the First Amendment to the United States 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.”     

Sounds reasonable enough, right? People on public university campuses ought to be able to exercise their constitutionally protected right of free speech. Could there be more of a “softball” bill for every politician to knock out of the park? Perhaps not, since five members (all Democrats) of the committee voted against it.

 You’re kidding me, right? Nope. That really just happened.

From among the members voting against the bill, there was only one comment made. It was a question asking for clarification for the words “invited guests.” Delegate Landes responded by pointing out that it was to address the issue of guest speakers who are invited by student groups being prevented from speaking on campus – which, if you’ve been paying attention to the news, seems to be happening a lot these days, and it is almost always those speakers with conservative viewpoints who are targeted.  

I’m not going to assign motives to these five Democratic members or draw any conclusions about why they voted the way they did.  Since they never spoke up to express their reasons for opposing it, I can’t be sure why. But the facts of the matter are clear, and inferences could certainly be drawn thereupon. And none of them paint their party or its agenda in a very favorable light.