Sen. Colbeck introduces “campus free speech” legislation

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Senator Patrick Colbeck

Senator Patrick Colbeck

LANSING, Mich.Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, introduced legislation Thursday that would create the “campus free speech act” in an effort to ensure that intellectual debate is allowed, encouraged and protected at our universities and community colleges. The measures are Senate Bills 349 and 350.

“The concept of free speech under the First Amendment is one of our core values as Americans,” Sen. Colbeck said. “The right to free speech at our schools is a particularly important piece of the fabric of our country. It is at this time that many of our younger citizens first start to realize the true importance of both their individual voice and the ability to learn from the differences of others.”

The legislation calls for the adoption of university and college policies that prioritize both the dissemination of knowledge and the importance of peaceful free expression. While illegal speech such as defamation, sexual harassment, and true threats of violence would not be allowed, clear policies would also need to be put in place to ensure free intellectual debate, the ability to voice divergent opinions, and the right to peaceful spontaneous assembly.

“Constitutional experts agree that the litmus test for when free speech should be barred has little to do with whether others believe it is objectionable,” Sen. Colbeck said. “In fact, that is why we need the First Amendment. We do not need a First Amendment to protect against the speech we agree with. Groupthink is the last thing we want to see on our campuses.”

The legislation would require policies to ensure that campuses not bar or ban any speaker whom students, student groups, or faculty members have invited and who can otherwise legally be allowed on campus. All public areas on campus would also be considered as areas for potential public forums that would be equally open on the same terms to any speaker.

“Our colleges and universities need to be areas where intellectual freedom is pervasive, and not limited by campus policies that seek to determine what views or values are better than others. If campus leaders believe some speech creates a safety concern because of unruly audience members wishing to use violence, they must police those who would break the law in order to stifle free speech, and not punish speakers by taking away their voice. Intellectual freedom on our campuses must not be bullied into silence.”

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