Four months after being overwhelmingly passed in the House, the Restore Campus Free Speech Act has become law.
House Bill 527 is bipartisan ‘campus free speech’ legislation that strengthens standards for free expression in our state university system and mandates that all public universities “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.”
HB527 requires UNC’s Board of Governors to develop, adopt, and implement various policies related to free expression, and to form a Committee on Free Expression which must make annual reports to the Board of Governors, the General Assembly, and the governor.
Up until now, there were no statutes addressing free speech for the University of North Carolina (UNC) institutions.
“It is critical that we reverse the trend of free speech being impeded on public university campuses in North Carolina,” said Representative Chris Millis, the bill’s chief sponsor. “And we must preempt further violations of those rights by fostering an environment of open thought and expression in the halls of higher education across North Carolina.”
The bill requires that all public universities include a section in their freshman orientation programs describing free speech principles and supporting school policies, and requires that our public universities establish a set of penalties for student protesters who interfere with the free speech rights of others or who disrupt events.
“It’s not ideological, it’s about doing the right thing,” said Representative Jonathan Jordan, the bill’s co-sponsor. “Speakers … are having their events permanently disrupted or canceled because certain student groups or individuals disagree with their beliefs.”
The bill was modeled after the Goldwater Institute’s policy report Campus Free Speech: A Legislative Proposal, co-authored by Dr. Stanley Kurtz. Professor Kurtz is an author and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and he wrote recently in the National Review Online about the passage of this groundbreaking legislation:
“It ensures that University of North Carolina policy will strongly affirm the importance of free expression. It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers whom members of the campus community wish to hear from. It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others, and ensures that students will be informed of those sanctions at freshman orientation. It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself. And it authorizes a special committee created by the Board of Regents to issue a yearly report to the public, the regents, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.”
Kurtz give the most credit for the successful passage of the bill into law to Lt. Governor Dan Forest, calling him the “guiding force” moving it through the legislature. “Forest and his staff,” said Kurtz, “provided critical early encouragement and support for the approach that eventuated in the Goldwater model bill.”
Governor Cooper refused to sign the new free speech protections into law, despite more than 20 percent of House Democrats joining all that chamber’s Republicans in supporting it.
The Times They Are A-changin’
After several disturbing instances last year at Appalachian State University, chancellor Sheri Everts seemed to take issue with certain kinds of political expression: “It is important to note that free speech is encouraged on our campus,” she said. “But not all speech that may be considered protected under state or federal laws is consistent with the university’s values and mission.”
In a recent poll of university students, 21% of the respondents believed that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was an “outdated amendment that can no longer be applied in today’s society and should be changed.” And, in perhaps even more shockingly, 35% of the students thought that “hate speech is not protected under the 1st Amendment.”
This kind of rationalization for the restriction of free speech rights at public universities is what sponsors say makes this bill necessary. “That,” said Representative Jordan, “is the reason for this bill.”
This legislation also comes on the heels of recent protests aimed at shutting down certain speakers with whom they do not agree at schools around the country. Violent left-wing protesters have ended appearances by author Charles Murray at Middlebury College, conservative ‘agent provocateur’ Milo Yiannopoulos at University of California-Berkeley, and author Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna College, to name just a recent few.
Many universities have resorted to simply banning speakers altogether to avoid the risk of violence from these radical leftist agitators. According to Washington Examiner columnist Lisa Boothe, “The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley was disinvited from speaking at Virginia Tech because he has written about race issues from a conservative perspective, and Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forced to cancel an invitation by Rutgers University to deliver that school’s commencement address in 2014. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which fights for free speech on college campuses, estimates that there have been around 338 speakers disinvited since 2000.”
Conservative speaker Ann Coulter was forced to cancel her April 27th speaking engagement at UC Berkeley (ironically, the birthplace of the so-called free speech movement) after mounting pressure from administrators and threats of violence from activists who promised to shut her down “by any means necessary.” Coulter’s campus sponsors had filed a lawsuit against the university over its violation of her First Amendment rights.
Apparently, the Berkeley situation was even too much for outspoken liberal potty-mouth Bill Maher and Senator Bernie Sanders, himself a committed democratic socialist. While disagreeing with her views, both condemned the students’ threats of violence and their attempt to suppress Coulter’s right to speak. “People have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation,” said Senator Sanders. he went on to say that the actions of the Berkeley protestors demonstrated “intellectual weakness.”
“Berkeley, you know, used to be the cradle of free speech,” cracked Maher. “Now it’s just the cradle for [expletive] babies.”
FIRE issued a statement on the ordeal on April 26, 2017: “Public colleges and universities have a legal duty to protect First Amendment rights. They also have a responsibility to do their best to protect all those present on campus from threats to their physical safety. But curtailing the rights of a speaker in the name of safety is wrong unless absolutely necessary, and canceling a speech must be the very last resort. Otherwise, restricting or silencing a speaker is simply a capitulation to violence or threats.”
“Berkeley should be ashamed for creating this hostile atmosphere,” said YAF president Ron Robinson. “Berkeley made it impossible to hold a lecture due to the lack of assurances for protections from foreseeable violence from unrestrained leftist agitators.”
“We are witnessing the emergence of a dangerous new norm for responding to speakers who challenge campus orthodoxy. Anyone offended by the speaker can put out a call on Facebook to bring together students and locals, including ‘antifa’ (antifascist) and black-bloc activists who explicitly endorse the use of violence against racists and fascists. Because of flagrant ‘concept creep,’ however, almost anyone who is politically right of center can be labeled a racist or a fascist, and the promiscuous use of such labels is now part of the standard operating procedure.”