Neville: Free Speech Should not be Zoned
We are experiencing a new era in our nation, one characterized by polarity, equally unpopular opinions, and designated free speech zones. A recent poll found 77 percent of Americans perceive the nation as divided, I suspect that number is climbing. Nowhere are the tensions as pointed as on college campuses.
In this time of a great lack of mutual understanding, we can choose our communities, our news, our schools, and all too often we find ourselves living in a bubble of our own creation. While I am an ardent proponent of all the choices a free-market society allows us, we cannot permit our choices to permanently shield us from anything we do not like.
Traditionally, universities are bastions of free speech and the open exchange of ideas. College students and faculty across the nation catalyzed countless movements, pushing back against the status quo and demanding change at times when change was unthinkable. Few people voiced their opinions louder than students, championing diversity of thought and wide array of backgrounds, beliefs, and visions for our future. Recently, however universities struggle with thoughtful debate, and instead put forth a litany of criteria for students to exercise their rights to speech, the most egregious of which requires students to limit their opinions to “free speech zones.” These zones are contrary to the very missions of universities.
Once we limit free speech to a zone, we indicate to our students that free speech does not exist anywhere beyond that zone. Is that the message we want to send to future generations about our nation’s core values?
It is possible to promote safety, high standards for education, and free speech rights simultaneously. I understand that maintaining the integrity and sanctity of education and keeping every student safe will always be a chief concern for universities. To that end, my bill allows these institutions the right to reasonable restrictions. Demonstrations which disrupt the primary mission of an undisturbed education or pose a threat to the safety of others may be curtailed when appropriate. Instead of shutting down debate, it is imperative that institutions offer ample alternative channels for communications of the student’s messages so that views and expressions dissimilar to the universities are given the opportunity free speech deserves.
Elected officials have a duty to citizens, an obligation to ensure that their liberties remain intact. The state legislature has a responsibility to strengthen our constitutional rights whenever possible, regardless of its political expediency. Indeed, how much we value the right to free speech is put to the test when we disagree with the speaker the most. When one of us is denied our First Amendment rights we are all denied, and free expression of all ideas, popular or not, must be safeguarded without interpretation or subjectivity. If we can have this strong dialogue and exchange in the public square, it bodes well for our nation’s future.
We send our kids to colleges and universities with the hope that they learn to challenge themselves, to grow and develop those skills that will see them through as tomorrow’s leaders who will continue to champion the core principles of our nation. We have to continue to teach our children that in order to be free, they must also be brave.
Please follow SB 62 as it progresses from the Senate to the House and share your support with your Representatives.