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Free Speech Groups Demand Congress Take Action To Protect Students’ First Amendment Rights

Multiple free speech activist groups urged lawmakers Monday to consider legislation that strengthens protection for students on America’s college campuses.
by Alexa Schwerha

Multiple free speech activist groups urged lawmakers Monday to consider legislation that strengthens protection for students on America’s college campuses.

The groups met during the second annual Congressional Campus Free Speech Roundtable to discuss the current state of free speech on college campuses, according to Republican Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina’s press release.

Several organizations urged the Republican representatives present to consider laws that withhold funding from public universities unless they complied with First Amendment protections.

Greg Gonzalez, a FIRE Legislative Fellow, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that while “cultural threats to free speech are often not easily addressed through statutes,” FIRE does have solutions Congress could consider for the upcoming legislative term which ban university administrators from engaging in viewpoint neutrality and barring expressive activity.

“Congress could create grants for orientation programs for incoming undergraduates that address free speech. Congress could also offer grants to develop and utilize programming for high school students about free speech and First Amendment rights,” Gonzalez said. “These programs would ensure that when students arrive on college campuses, they understand their First Amendment rights and the importance of a free speech culture.”

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He also suggested that Congress could crack down on unconstitutional speech restrictions by implementing bans on “free-speech zones.” Free speech zones are often criticized for being unconstitutional as they limit expressive activity to a specific area on campus, rather than recognize the entire campus as open to expressive activities.

“Congress is in a strong position to combat formal censorship, specifically in areas where there is already strong judicial precedent,” he said. “Congress could finish the job by prohibiting free speech zones nationwide.”

Gonzalez then suggested Congress tackle a common tactic by university officials to weaponize security fees to stifle speaking events on campus.

“Too often, universities assess security fees on student groups based on the viewpoint of the speaker the group brings to campus and the potential that the content of the speech may invite protests,” he said. “This creates an unconstitutional heckler’s veto which can be easily addressed in law.”

Karalee Geis, YAF’s Director of Capitol Hill Outreach, told the DCNF she wants to see Congress reintroduce The Campus Free Speech Restoration Act (CFSRA) and Campus Free Speech Protection Act of 2022 in the 118th Congress.

The CFSRA was introduced on the House floor by Republican Rep. Murphy in June 2021 to prohibit universities from restricting speech on campus.

“Now that the American people have entrusted Republicans with the House majority, it’s more important than ever that we make First Amendment protections a top priority,” Murphy told the DCNF. “The free exchange of ideas is the hallmark of a post-secondary education, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the freedom of speech for generations of students to come.”

Raj Kannapan, YAF Vice President, told the DCNF that YAF “is grateful for the leadership of Congressman Murphy and the Campus Free Speech Caucus in defending the First Amendment rights of students nationwide.”

“Unless people in power hold them accountable, universities have little incentive to change their often unconstitutional behavior,” he said.

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poll released by the Buckley Program in October found that 63% of college students are intimidated to express a view that could be different than their peers while 58% of students were intimidated to vocalize an opinion different from a professor’s.

“Members of the Education and Labor Committee submitted multiple bills to promote and protect the freedom of speech on college campuses,” Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said. “In the next Congress, we look forward to examining closely these bills and other ways to preserve the First Amendment on campuses.”

Republican Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida told the DCNF that she is “excited to launch the Congressional Campus Free Speech Challenge during the 118th Congress.”

“This challenge will put members on the front lines of the fight to restore free speech on campuses nationwide,” she said. “If we’re to protect these critical freedoms for the next generation, it’s imperative we know what’s happening on the ground.”

Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said in a statement that she “was pleased” to join the discussion about “protecting free speech on our school campuses.”

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