News Story

Colbeck Introduces Bill to Crack Down on Campus Free Speech Infringements

State School Board Member: ‘Taxpayer dollars should not go to such institutions’

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, has introduced two bills he says would require state universities to adopt policies that protect free speech and intellectual debate on campus and ensure that invited speakers would be allowed to speak.

The text of the legislation, embodied in Senate Bills 349 and 350, has not yet been posted on the website of the Michigan Legislature. Colbeck calls his proposal the “campus free speech act.”

“The concept of free speech under the First Amendment is one of our core values as Americans,” Colbeck said in a press release. “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 release says universities and colleges would have to adopt policies that “prioritize both the dissemination of knowledge and the importance of peaceful free expression.” However, illegal speech such as defamation, sexual harassment and true threats of violence would not be allowed.

“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,” 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.”

Nationwide, conservative and libertarian speakers invited to college campuses have had their events canceled and in some cases faced violent protests.

In Michigan, students at Kellogg Community College filed a lawsuit this year against the college after they were arrested and jailed for refusing to stop handing out pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has highlighted colleges in Michigan with questionable free speech policies through a series of stories earlier this year.

Colbeck’s legislation would also make all public areas on campus open as public forums to allow the same terms to any speaker, according to the press release.

“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,” Colbeck said. “Intellectual freedom on our campuses must not be bullied into silence.”

State Board of Education member Tom McMillin said he supports Colbeck’s bills.

“I hope it covers handing out Constitutions at community colleges,” McMillin said in an email. “The left so often wants to silence speech they don’t like. Taxpayer dollars should not go to such institutions. I actually think he should put the free speech provisions in the budget. If higher education institutions want tax dollars, they must eliminate all anti-free speech policies. Put them in boilerplate.”