graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Florida Supreme Court considers, rules on bundled ballot measures – October 2018

Tallahassee, FL

In Anstead v. Detzner, Harry Lee Anstead and Robert Barnas claim that proposed amendments to the Florida state constitution infringe on voters’ First Amendment rights because they can only be considered as a bundled package, preventing citizens from expressing their approval or disapproval of a specific measure. A county circuit court ruled in Anstead’s and Barnas’s favor, but the state appealed and the case was sent to the Florida Supreme Court.

Key Players

Harry Lee Anstead is a former Florida Supreme Court justice. He and former Florida Elections Commissioner Robert Barnas are the plaintiffs in the case against the state. The pair raised concerns that proposed amendments to the state’s constitution were improperly bundled, which could lead to voter confusion, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) is a 37-member body, made up of commissioners named by the governor, state congressional leaders, and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Established by the state constitution, the commission is responsible for proposing constitutional amendments, which can also originate through citizens’ initiatives, legislative recommendations, or constitutional conventions. In April 2018, the commission referred eight constitutional amendments to be on the ballot during the November 2018 midterm elections.

Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Republican governor Rick Scott to serve as Florida’s secretary of state, is the named respondent in the lawsuit.

Pam Bondi, a Republican, currently serves as Florida’s attorney general. Her office was responsible for appealing the initial circuit court decision in the case.

Further Details

In April 2018, Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) added twelve constitutional amendments to the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election. In August 2018, Anstead and Barnas petitioned the Florida Supreme Court, claiming that several of the proposed amendments reflected practices of improper bundling.

In an October 2018 interview with WLRN, a south Florida public radio station, Tim Cerio, a member of the 2018 CRC and a former counsel to Republican governor Rick Scott, said the reason for bundling the amendments was to “promote ballot brevity to the extent we can prevent voter fatigue.” Critics, however, argue that the move was merely another way of denying relevant choices to Florida voters in an attempt to attach unpopular items with more favorable ones.

“The commission on Monday added amendments to the November ballot that will force voters to accept unconnected or unpopular changes with ones they support — or reject the entire amendment,” the Tampa Bay Times wrote in an April editorial. “It’s a cynical attempt to sneak through a conservative agenda that otherwise never would be approved, and voters should send a clear message they refuse to be manipulated.”

Critics also argued that the amendment bundling prevented voters from being able to voice their opinions distinctly through their vote, and from voting with their interests. Linking Floridians’ opinions on unrelated issues, critics said, would limit their ability to free expression through voting.

Ansted’s and Barnas’s case alleges that such bundling muddles the voting process on each amendment. “This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,” they said to the Tampa Bay Times.

Anstead and Barnas challenged three proposed amendments in particular:

  • Amendment 7, which requires benefits for first responders and members of the military, and also modifies constitutional language around the state college system;
  • Amendment 9, which bans offshore oil and gas drilling, as well as vaping in indoor workplaces; and
  • Amendment 11, which repeals a ban on undocumented immigrants from owning property and removes a constitutional requirement to build a high-speed train system

The case also challenged Amendment 8, which included three ideas concerning the state’s education system; however, that facet of the case was rendered moot when the amendment was taken off the ballot after a seperate, successful legal battle, which claimed it was worded misleadingly, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Florida Supreme Court sent Anstead v. Detzner down to the Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, the state  capital, for an initial hearing. On September 5, 2018, Judge Karen Gievers ordered the three amendments off the ballot, siding with Anstead and Barnas.

The state of Florida, via Bondi’s office, immediately appealed Gievers’s decision, and the First District Court of Appeals passed the case along to the state Supreme Court.

Joseph Little, the attorney for Anstead and Barnas, argued that the high court should uphold Gievers’s decision to block the amendments from the ballot, citing Floridians’ First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment “protects Florida voters from being forced to vote against their choices,” Little wrote in a brief filed with the Florida Supreme Court on September 21, 2018. Bondi, however, called this argument a “novel constitutional theory” that ignored historical examples of bundled constitutional amendments.

Outcome

Florida Supreme Court rules on Anstead v. Detzner

On Oct. 17, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the circuit court decision, arguing that the “the proposed amendments are not defective for bundling independent and unrelated measures.” The court ruled that Amendments 7, 9, and 11 would appear on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election.

Amendments 7, 9, 11 pass

All three of the amendments contested in Anstead v. Detzner passed.

External References

Florida Constitution Revision Commission, Ballotpedia

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks, Tampa Bay Times

Former Florida chief justice challenges Amendment 8, five others as unconstitutionally bundled, Tampa Bay Times

ANSTEAD, HARRY LEE vs KEN DETZNER IN HIS OFFICiAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF STATE

What’s at stake in today’s Florida court hearings over Amendment 8?, Tampa Bay Times

Florida Supreme Court removes Amendment 8 from ballot, Tampa Bay Times

Florida Supreme Court asked to block amendments from ballot, News4Jax

Florida Supreme Court Docket: Case Docket, Case Number: SC18-1513 – Active, KENNETH J. DETZNER, ETC. vs. HARRY LEE ANSTEAD, ET AL.

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded January 2, 2018

graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Bill banning gay conversion therapy stalls in California legislature over Free Speech and religious concerns – August 2018

Sacramento, CA

California State Assemblyman Evan Low announced he would no longer pursue a statewide ban on gay conversion therapy practices, because of concerns in the religious community that such a bill would infringe on freedom of expression. Conversion therapy, also known as “reparative” or “reorientation therapy,” is a questionable practice aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Most clinicians regard it as a pseudoscientific and exploitative treatment, but some religious groups nonetheless advocate it.

Key Players

Evan Low is a California state assemblyman who has served in the legislature since 2014. His district covers parts of the South Bay and Silicon Valley, and he also serves as the chair of the Legislative LGBT Caucus. Low identifies as a gay man, and he began efforts early in 2018 to extend California’s ban on gay conversion therapy to adults (a 2012 law had already banned the practice for minors).

Low says he considered undergoing conversion therapy himself as a teen, when he was coming to terms with his sexuality. “It brings me back to a very dark place in my earlier life,” Low said in an interview with The Mercury News. “I don’t want anyone else to be in the same position I was in.” The assemblyman used his personal experiences to drum up support for his bill, which sought to change consumer fraud laws to make it easier for adults to sue people who practice conversion therapy.

The California Family Council (CFC) is a Fresno-based organization, headed by Jonathan Keller, that aims to “protect and foster Judeo-Christian principles in California’s laws” for the benefit of its families. It says that part of its mission is to “inform and educate Californians on public policy issues, and that its perspectives are founded upon a worldview derived from “biblical truth, confirmed by objective social science research.” The organization opposed Low’s bill.

Further Details

The legislation in question, AB 2493, was designed to prohibit the selling or advertising of sexual orientation change therapy. The practice is opposed by medical groups such as the American College of Physicians and the American Psychological Association, which cite a lack of evidence of the practice’s efficacy and potential harm to a patient’s mental health. In fact, some who undergo the practice, as was noted by The Mercury News, report that it can have long-lasting negative effects, such as suicidal thoughts, financial hardship, and the reinforced idea that “there’s something wrong” with them.

Such concerns influenced Low to pursue the effort to pass the bill. By late August 2018, it had cleared both the California state senate and assembly, needing only one more procedural vote in the assembly before it could be signed into law by the governor.

However, before the bill could be signed, Low decided to suspend the effort because of the pushback he had received from various religious groups and leaders.

Jonathan Keller, President of the faith-based California Family Council, said in a statement that “AB 2943 would have tragically limited our ability to offer compassionate support related to sexual orientation and gender identity, and even to preach Jesus’ message of unconditional love and life transformation.”

Initially, Low defended his bill against such critiques. But, after a certain point, he felt compelled to work with religious leaders on the issue. In particular, he was struck by those who opposed conversion therapy but feared the bill’s broader implications.

Kevin Mannoia, chaplain at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian college in California, expressed such sentiments in an Orange County Register op-ed: “…reparative therapy is without evidence as to its efficacy and is inconsistent with Christian living,” he wrote. However, he said, “The breadth of the language in AB2943 will limit the ability of California’s pastors to engage fully with the real struggles of their people.” And, in a statement, The Los Angeles Times editorial board opined that the bill was simply too ambiguous to be passed: “The problem is that AB 2943 isn’t a regulation of licensed healthcare professionals. Rather, and oddly, it’s an amendment to a state law, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, dealing with fraudulent trade in goods and services. It would expand the definition of “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” for which consumers could sue to include “advertising, offering to engage in or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual.” And it would cover anyone who engaged in that practice.”

Taking these concerns into account, Low expressed a desire to create a new bill with language that could be used by state legislatures across the country and overcome religious-based objections.

Outcome

Bill pushed back to next legislative session

Assemblyman Low announced that although the bill died in 2018, he would try again during the next legislative session with a new proposal that might be more comfortable for religious community leaders.

External References

Gay conversion therapy bill dropped by California lawmaker, The Sacramento Bee

California legislator shelves bill to ban paid ‘gay conversion therapy’ for adults, Los Angeles Times

Thank You Assemblyman Low for Pulling AB 2943 and Listening to our Concerns, California Family Council

Assemblymember Evan Low official website

Evan Low now fighting conversion therapy in California, The Mercury News

Statement from LA TImes editorial board

 

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded to Tracker: October 22, 2018

graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Louisiana governor signs campus free expression bill – June 2018

Baton Rouge, LA

In June 2018, Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards signed a bill that seeks to protect free expression on public college and university campuses in the state, particularly by codifying student and faculty expression rights. Another free expression bill, which sought to protect controversial figures’ right to speak on campuses, was vetoed by Edwards in June 2017.

Key Players

John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is the current governor of Louisiana, having held the office since 2016. He vetoed a proposed free expression bill in 2017, before signing a different one into law in 2018.

Rick Ward is a Republican who has served as a state senator in Louisiana since 2012. Ward introduced SB 364 into the Louisiana Senate in March 2018.

Further Details

SB 364 requires public colleges and universities in Louisiana to “strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression” on their campuses. They must develop and adopt free expression policies, publish them in their school handbooks and websites, and explain them during student orientations. The bill does allow for some time and place restrictions on expression, “narrowly tailored in service of significant institutional interest.” It also specifies that the state’s public colleges and universities cannot deny “a belief-based student organization” any of the privileges or benefits that are made available to other student organizations.

Finally, SB 364 requires Louisiana’s public colleges and universities to submit a report to the governor and the state legislature in January 2019 discussing the implementation of the law on their campuses. From that point on, institutions will have to submit annual reports detailing any “barriers to, or incidents against, free expression” that have occurred, as well as any action taken in response.

In April 2017, another free expression bill, HB 269, was introduced in the Louisiana House of Representatives. That bill sought to protect controversial speakers who visit college campuses and encourage penalties against students who interrupt them, according to The Times-Picayune. The proposed law also required schools to adopt free expression statements — similar to the requirement in SB 364 — and would have established a committee on free expression under the Louisiana Board of Regents to report annually on free speech controversies and obstacles on campuses.

HB 269 had broad bipartisan support and passed the Louisiana House of Representatives 95-0 and the state Senate 30-2, but it was vetoed by Edwards in June 2017. In his veto letter, he wrote that the bill was “unnecessary and overly burdensome to our colleges and universities” and that the freedoms it sought to protect were already covered by the First Amendment, according to the Times-Picayune.

After Edwards vetoed HB 269, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote that it was “saddened” the bill had not passed, since it contained “several important provisions that would have protected campus free speech,” particularly by forcing schools to abandon “free speech zones” and potentially penalize hecklers.

Outcome

Governor signs SB 364 into law

In April 2018, SB 364 passed the Louisiana Senate with a 33-0 vote with six members absent and not voting. In May 2018, the bill passed the state’s House of Representatives in a 58-26 vote with 20 members absent and not voting. The House vote fell largely along partisan lines, with 25 of the 26 negative votes coming from Democrats.

The bill was sent to Edwards’s desk on May 22, 2018, and on June 1, he signed it into law. It became effective immediately.

External References

HB 269 by Representative Lance Harris, Louisiana State Legislature

House passes bill to ensure free speech for controversial speakers on Louisiana college campuses, The Advocate

College ‘free speech’ bill vetoed by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana governor vetoes campus free speech bill, FIRE

Senate Bill No. 364

State Legislature continues campus free speech battle, The Daily Advertiser

SB364 by Senator Rick Ward, III, Louisiana State Legislature

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded July 1, 2018

graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Federal judge strikes down Kansas anti-boycott law – January 2018

Wichita, KS

A public school teacher in Wichita, Kansas, was not allowed to join a Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) program because she refused to certify that she was not participating in a boycott against Israel. With the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), she filed suit against the Kansas Commissioner of Education, alleging her First Amendment rights had been infringed upon. A federal judge ruled in her favor, declaring the Kansas law that had allowed this to occur unconstitutional.

Key Players

Esther Koontz is a public school math teacher and curriculum coach in Wichita, Kansas. She is also a member of the Mennonite church. In the early 2000s, Koontz traveled to the Israel/Palestine region. After witnessing what she considered unjust Israeli treatment of Palestinians, she considered taking part in a boycott of Israel. Then, in July 2017, the Mennonite church passed a resolution encouraging members to remedy injustices against Palestinians and Israelis, in part by boycotting goods produced in Israel. Koontz chose to participate in this boycott of Israeli goods and of companies that allegedly “profit from the violation of Palestinians’ rights.”

The Kansas State Legislature, in June 2017, passed HB 2409, which prohibited the state from doing business with individuals or companies that are “engaged in a boycott of Israel.” The bill also required all individuals and companies with which the state of Kansas does business to sign a written certification that they are not engaged in a boycott of Israel. Dozens of similar laws have popped up in state legislatures across the country over the last few years in response to the recent growth of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Further Details

In 2017, Koontz — who has worked as a teacher for over a decade — was selected by a KSDE program that allows veteran teachers to train other public school teachers throughout the state. She had completed the necessary training and scheduled her first sessions as a teacher trainer when she was contacted by a state employee who informed her that, in order to work in this capacity as a state contractor, she would need to sign a statement certifying she was not boycotting Israel. Koontz refused to sign the certification and thus was prevented from working in the KSDE teacher-trainer program.

In October 2017, the ACLU filed a suit against Kansas Commissioner of Education Randall D. Watson on Koontz’s behalf in United States District Court for the District of Kansas, alleging her First Amendment rights had been violated. The ACLU cited the 1982 Supreme Court decision NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., which ruled that the government cannot prohibit peaceful, politically-motivated boycotts.

In an article on the ACLU’s website, Koontz wrote, “I am challenging this law because I believe that the First Amendment protects my right, and the right of all Americans, to make consumer spending decisions based on their political beliefs.”

However, proponents of the bill argued its importance for Kansas’ economic well-being. “It’s in the best interest of Kansas to continue our strong partnership with Israel,” said State Representative William Sutton, a Republican.

Outcome

Federal judge rules Kansas anti-boycott law unconstitutional

In January 2018, a federal judge in Kansas ruled HB 2409 unconstitutional, as it infringed upon the First Amendment Free Speech rights of those who choose to boycott Israel. The decision reaffirmed the Supreme Court’s decision in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., noting that “the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in a boycott like the one punished by the Kansas law.”

External References

Kansas House votes to block contracting with Israel boycotters, The Wichita Eagle

The Constitutional Right to Boycott, The Atlantic

Kansas Is Punishing A Teacher for Following Her Church’s Guidance to Boycott Israel, The Intercept

In a Major Free Speech Victory, a Federal Court Strikes Down a Law that Punishes Supporters of Israel Boycott, The Intercept

Kansas Won’t Let Me Train Math Teachers Because I Boycott Israel, ACLU

Kansas State Legislature, HB 2409

KOONTZ V. WATSON — OPINION, ACLU

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded May 29, 2018

graphic of Free Speech in State Legislatures

Arizona governor signs law imposing consequences on students who impede speech – 2018

Phoenix, AZ

Despite concerns raised by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Arizona’s legislature passed a law aimed at protecting Free Speech on college campuses. Meanwhile, the president of Arizona’s largest public university claims that the state’s lawmakers themselves constitute the greatest threat to Free Speech.

Key Players

Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed HB 2563 into law on April 26, 2018. In his signing letter, Ducey acknowledged a lack of Free Speech controversies at Arizona’s public colleges and universities. “On our state’s… campuses, free speech is protected and diversity of thought is valued,” he wrote. However, Ducey’s letter called attention to Free Speech incidents “across the country, from Berkeley to Harvard, from Missouri to Middlebury [where] protests and violence have attempted to silence speech that some people just don’t want to hear.”

State Representative Paul Boyer, a Republican who represents northern Phoenix, sponsored the law. According to AZ Central, Boyer expressed concern about the University of Arizona’s attempt to hire social justice advocates in 2017. These employees would report incidents of bias, a responsibility that some conservative legislators denounced as “speech police.” Boyer told AZ Central that the mission of his bill was to ensure that any restriction on speech is content-neutral. “If you’re a Bernie bro or a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, you have a right to have your speech protected,” he said.

Further Details

The new law requires public colleges and universities to establish 15-member committees to monitor and report infringements on Free Speech, according to AZ Central. The law also allows individuals to sue colleges and universities in the event that their Free Speech rights are violated. In an effort to fight against the “heckler’s veto,” a phenomenon in which protesting students sometimes shut down speakers they object to, the law imposes minimum damages of $1,000 for such incidents. Finally, the law notes that “if a student has repeatedly been determined to have materially and substantially infringed on the expressive rights of another person, a punishment of suspension or expulsion from the university or community college may be appropriate.”

FIRE strongly opposed the law, writing in a blog post that it would “have a profound impact on student expression on campuses across Arizona,” and that the legislative “language would allow student speech rights to be routinely violated.” Specifically, FIRE objected to a provision that permits universities and colleges torestrict a student’s right to speak, including verbal speech, holding a sign or distributing fliers or other materials, in a public forum.”

HB 2563 was authored by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank located in Phoenix. Additionally, two conservative Christian organizations, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy, participted in drafting the law.

In April 2018, Eileen Klein, then-president of the Arizona Board of Regents, warned that legislation aimed at protecting Free Speech on campus often curtails it instead. She noted that university officials helped get the bill in “as good of shape as possible,” reported AZ Central.

Despite the intention of legislators to protect First Amendment freedoms, the head of the state’s largest university claims that lawmakers themselves constitute the biggest threat to Free Speech on Arizona campuses. Arizona State University (ASU) President Michael Crow told AZ Central that he plans to comply with the new law by reporting any attempts of lawmakers to interfere with Free Speech. “The most troublesome area is the interference of the Legislature in who might speak on campus,” he said. Lawmakers reportedly complained about a course called “The Problem of Whiteness,” according to ASU officials. Last year, a Republican legislator sponsored a bill that would prohibit events, activities, or courses that promoted either the overthrow of the government or division among races. Boyer did not support this legislation.

Outcome

Governor Signs Bill

On April 26, 2018, Governor Ducey signed HB 2563 into law.

External References

HB 2563

‘Campus free-speech crisis’ is focus of new law – despite lack of Arizona incidents, AZ Central

Problematic Arizona campus free speech bill would allow colleges to restrict students’ rights, FIRE

University of Arizona reconsiders plan to hire ‘social justice advocates’, Arizona Capitol Times

Governor Ducey’s Signing Letter

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded May 7, 2018

Florida: Legislature Considered Requiring Schools to Display “In God We Trust” – 2018

Bill requiring public schools to display state’s motto “in a conspicuous place” died in State Senate

Tallahassee, FL

A law that would have required public schools to display prominently Florida’s motto, “In God We Trust,” earned bipartisan support in the state’s House of Representatives before dying in the state Senate’s Committee on Education in March.

Key Players

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a pastor and Democrat representing Duval County, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers approved it on February 21, 2018, the same day that students gathered in the state capitol to demand stricter gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Daniels drew criticism for remarking on the House floor, “it is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed, but the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart,” reported NPR. She also claimed that the legislation was inspired by a message she received from God. “I believe it was God, and I heard a voice say, ‘Do not politicize what has happened in Florida and do not make this a thing of division,’” she told fellow lawmakers.

Further Details

Motivated by animosity toward the Soviet Union, federal lawmakers adopted “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States in 1956. Though the phrase first appeared on Florida’s flag as part of the state seal in 1868, it became the official state motto in 2006, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Sue Woltanski, a Monroe County parent and public schools advocate, testified before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee that the bill was unnecessary, reported the Times. “Current statute satisfies the requirement to display the state motto which is, of course, on the state flag,” she said. She suggested the committee focus on “real education issues.” However, the subcommittee unanimously approved the bill, which was then passed by the full House of Representatives on a vote of 97-10, reported NPR.

Atheists of Florida, an organization of non-religious citizens, offered to provide signs to Florida’s public schools if the measure was approved, the Times reported. These signs would have also included the line “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” a clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. “We want to help educate about the First Amendment and the establishment clause, as well as about the diversity in our country,” the group’s executive director told the Times.

Outcome

Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Though the bill earned bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate Committee on Education on March 10, 2018.

External References

SB 1158

HB 839

Florida lawmakers consider requiring schools to post “In God we trust”, Tampa Bay Times

Florida vote to post ‘In God we Trust’ in schools prompts a question: Whose God? Penn Live

Atheist group says it will offer alternative ‘In God We Trust’ signs to Florida schools, The Hill

Florida Lawmakers Advance Bill Requiring Schools To Display ‘In God We Trust’, NPR

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

 

State Judiciary Committee prohibits citizens from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers with political messages at hearings – 2018

Connecticut: Judiciary Committee Bans Political Messages at Hearings (2018)

Hartford, CT

Lawmakers in Connecticut decided to prohibit members of the public from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers that express political messages inside the hearing room. This decision drew sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Key Players

David McGuire serves as the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. The organization released a statement in which McGuire expressed concern about the committee’s decision. “The Connecticut capitol is supposed to be the people’s house. When people walk into that house to lobby their legislators, they don’t leave their First Amendment rights at the door,” he said.

Further Details

In February 2018, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a committee on which state Senators and Representatives jointly serve, announced during a hearing that political messaging on shirts, buttons, or stickers would not be permitted inside the hearing room. On March 23, 2018, the committee heard testimony regarding House Bills 5540 and 5542, which would ban ghost guns and bump stocks, respectively, in an effort to reduce gun violence in Connecticut. The hearing attracted a large crowd of both supporters and opponents of gun control, including members of Moms Demand Action, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance, and Connecticut Citizens Defense League. Many members of these organizations wore shirts or buttons that expressed their opinion on gun control. Committee members asked that attendees turn their shirts inside out and refrain from displaying their signs in the room.

The ACLU of Connecticut strongly criticized this decision, noting that “wearing a shirt, button, or sticker at a legislative hearing is a basic component of today’s political discourse. Buttons, shirts, and stickers do not interfere with other people’s abilities to lobby, testify, or otherwise participate in democracy. Buttons, shirts, and stickers with political messages help people to make their views known—something that legislators should encourage, not dismiss.”

In a related but separate matter, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky on February 28, 2018. This case examined whether or not states may prohibit clothing with ideological messaging inside polling places. According to the petitioner’s brief, there are nine states in addition to Connecticut that have similar laws in place regarding political messaging at voting locations. The Court’s decision is pending.

Outcome

Political Messages Banned From Judiciary Committee Hearings

Since February 2018, shirts, buttons, and stickers with political messages have not been permitted in Connecticut’s judiciary hearings.

External References

ACLU Statement

Lawmakers receive mixed message on bump stocks, ghost guns, CT Post

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, SCOTUS Blog

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

State Senate rejects Free Speech bill due to its lack of protections against harassment – 2018

Kansas: Senate Bill 340 (2018)

Topeka, KS

In March 2018, lawmakers in the Kansas Senate narrowly rejected Senate Bill 340, also known as the Campus Free Speech Protection Act. This bill would have prohibited the use of Free Speech zones at public colleges and universities. It also would have required universities to pay all security costs related to campus events, including those that feature student-sponsored guest speakers. Critics of the bill claimed it weakened a public university’s ability to protect LGBT individuals from student-on-student harassment.

Key Players

Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican who represents the suburbs of Wichita, introduced the bill. While there has not yet been a major Free Speech incident at a public college or university in Kansas, Masterson told the Associated Press (AP) that his bill was intended to prevent a “political arms race” on campus.

Further Details

In addition to prohibiting the use of Free Speech zones, SB 340 would have prevented public colleges and universities from disinviting guest speakers. According to The Kansas City Star, only one speaker has been disinvited from a college campus in Kansas. In 2016, Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier was disinvited from Newman University, a private Catholic college located in Wichita, after anti-abortion activists launched a social media campaign opposing her invitation. SB 340 applied only to public colleges and universities and therefore would not have affected this incident if it had been in place at the time.

SB 340 also would have prohibited universities from requiring student organizations to pay security costs that stem from a guest speaker’s appearance on campus. Mark Johnson, a lecturer at the University of Kansas, noted that the law would operate as a “cost-shifting mechanism.” He told The University Daily Kansan that “Right now, the University could impose the cost of security, like hiring off duty cops … on the sponsoring organization.”

Though the Kansas Board of Regents did not take a position on this legislation, Director of Communications Matt Keith said that SB 340 would not alter any state university politics. “It primarily reiterates that universities must abide by the first amendment, which they already do,” he told the Daily Kansan. “Generally speaking, no additional measures will likely need to be taken to ensure students’ right to freedom of speech, as state universities already respect and value that right.”

Seconding this opinion, the editorial board of The Kansas City Star noted that SB 340 “does seem like another solution in search of a problem,” while maintaining that “it’s vital that university speech codes not limit student speech.”

The Kansas National Education Association raised concerns about potential unintended consequences of the law. One representative told the Star that SB 340 could limit an administration’s ability to protect students. The bill expressly prioritized the free exchange of ideas over civility on campus. Specifically, it asserted that “although an institution should greatly value civility and mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect shall never be used by an institution as a justification for closing off the discussion of ideas, however offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical or wrong-headed those ideas may be to some.”

If it had been signed into law, SB 340 would have prohibited universities from enacting anti-harassment policies that go beyond federal, state and local protections. While schools are expected to implement a policy regarding student-on-student harassment, the bill defined such harassment as conduct that is unwelcome and “discriminatory on a basis prohibited by federal, state or local law.” According to the Eagle, “the federal government and Kansas have no law barring harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Concerns about the ability of school administrators to protect LGBT students from harassment inspired much of the opposition to the bill. Democratic Senator Anthony Hensley, minority leader in the Kansas Senate, told the Eagle that under the bill’s provisions, schools “can’t effectively discipline students who would harass others because of their gender identity or sexual orientation and I think that is a real big problem.” In turn, Masterson defended his bill, arguing, “until the state recognizes that as a class, why would you allow public institutions to expand beyond what the state would allow?” reported the Eagle.

Davis Hammet, the founder of Loud Light, a Kansas-based organization dedicated to fostering civic participation among young people and minorities, called SB 340 a “pro-discrimination bill.” He told the Eagle that this legislation would create “a really toxic campus climate, a dangerous campus climate.”

While the bill was recommended for passage by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs, it was eventually defeated by a tie vote. Democrats unanimously opposed the bill, while the Senate’s Republican caucus was divided.

Outcome

Tie Vote in Senate Kills Free Speech Bill

Concerns about the bill’s impact on student-on-student harassment policies inspired a 20-20 vote in the Kansas Senate, which effectively killed it. Lawmakers critical of SB 340 noted that the bill would not protect LGBT students from harassment by their peers.

External References

SB 340

Campus free speech bill advances in Kansas Senate, The University Daily Kansan

Do Kansas college campuses really need free-speech zones? The Kansas City Star

Kansas Lawmakers Consider Bill to Protect Speech on Campus, U.S. News and World Report

This bill limited college anti-harassment policies. Kansas senators just killed it, The Wichita Eagle

Newman cancels talk by Supreme Court justice after anti-abortion backlash, The Wichita Eagle

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 2, 2018

State Senate approves bill that prohibits public colleges and universities from disinviting speakers – 2018

Kentucky: Senate Bill 237 (2018)

Frankfort, KY

Lawmakers in Kentucky are considering a bill aimed at promoting Free Speech on the campuses of public colleges and universities. The bill was approved by the state’s Senate and is now under consideration by the Committee on Education in Kentucky’s House of Representatives.

Key Players

Senator Will Schroder, a Republican, is the lead sponsor of SB 237. He told WKMS that this legislation is partially inspired by a conversation he had with a student at Northern Kentucky University. The student reportedly told Schroder that pro-life speech was being suppressed on campus, citing an incident in which crosses and a sign associated with a pro-life demonstration were destroyed. While answering his colleagues’ questions about SB 237, Schroder acknowledged that name-calling and hate speech would be protected under the bill, reported WKMS.

Further Details

This bill would prohibit the use of Free Speech zones on campus and declare all “generally accessible, open, outdoor areas of the campus” to be traditional public forums. Moreover, the bill would bar public colleges and universities from disinviting speakers on the grounds that their “anticipated speech may be considered offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, or radical….”

Critics of SB 237 have argued that the bill would weaken a school administration’s ability to police campus activity. Senator Ray Jones, a Democrat, opposed the bill. “You know free speech is important, but there is a public safety concern,” he told WKMS.

Senator Reggie Thomas, also a Democrat, raised concerns about the bill’s prohibition on disinviting divisive speakers. “If you read that language literally, that invites hate speech to come on campuses and be spewed and spoken,” he said, according to WMKY. Specifically, Thomas cited a 2014 incident involving former U.S. Senate candidate Robert Ransdell, a neo-Nazi, at the University of Kentucky. Ransdell was “removed from the stage after uttering racially-inflammatory remarks,” reported WMKY. Thomas raised the concern that such action by university administrations would not be permitted if SB 237 became law. Schroder responded to this concern by noting that administrators have “protections . . . if they anticipate something extreme that is going to place the listening audience in danger,” reported WMKY.

A spokesman from the University of Kentucky said that this bill would not impact its existing practices related to Free Speech, according to WMKY.

Outcome

After approval by the Senate, bill awaits consideration by House of Representatives

On March 13, 2018, SB 237 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 27-11. Nine Democrats and two Republicans voted against the bill, while 25 Republicans and two Democrats approved it. The bill will now be considered by the House Standing Committee on Education.

External References

SB 237

Does Free Speech Need More Safeguarding On Campus? GOP Lawmaker Says Yes, WMKY

Kentucky Senate Approves Free Speech Measure, KPR

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 2, 2018

State senate considers Free Speech bill killed by state’s House of Representatives – 2018

South Dakota: House Bill 1073/Senate Bill 198 (2018)

Pierre, SD

Lawmakers in the South Dakota House of Representatives killed a bill that aims to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. However, identical legislation remains under consideration in the state senate. The pair of bills, proposed in January 2018, would eliminate Free Speech Zones on campuses and require public colleges and universities to publish annual reports that detail the steps taken to foster intellectual diversity. The bills’ sponsors were inspired to introduce the legislation after a 2015 incident involving the cancellation of a film that was to be shown at the University of South Dakota (USD).

Key Figures

Representative Michael Clark, a Republican, is the lead sponsor of HB 1073. “The first amendment belongs to everybody, regardless of their station in life,” Clark told The Argus Leader. “I swore an oath to protect these rights with my very life if I must … with House Bill 1073, I honor that oath.” Concerned by recent protests on college campuses across the country, Clark hopes that the bill’s public reporting component will allow lawmakers, as well as the general public, to scrutinize the behavior of university officials. “Students need to be able to question assumptions and debate ideas,” he told Campus Reform. “There are many concerns with how politically one-sided campuses have become; we simply are asking colleges to report on what they are doing to promote intellectual diversity on campus and create a marketplace of ideas, which is what we all should be striving for.”

Further Details

Both HB 1073 and SB 198 would eliminate Free Speech Zones by declaring “any outdoor area of a campus of a public institution of higher education” to be a public forum. While the bills would permit certain time, place, and manner restrictions on speech, students would be permitted to “spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature.” However, the right of counter-demonstrators to “materially and substantially prohibit the free expression rights of others on campus” would not be protected under this legislation.

HB 1073 was co-sponsored by 15 lawmakers in the House of Representatives and 15 state senators, all Republican. The bills were endorsed by the South Dakota College Republicans, as well as the state’s Republican Party, The Argus Leader reported.

Much of the debate concerning Free Speech at South Dakota’s public institutions of higher education is focused on an incident involving the film “Honor Diaries,” a 2013 documentary that explores human rights abuses in Middle Eastern countries. In March 2015, USD administrators cancelled a planned screening of the film, which had drawn criticism from Muslim advocacy groups, reported the Leader. University officials maintained that the cancellation was not an infringement on Free Speech. The showing “was cancelled because the format and setting did not allow for appropriate discussion following the screening,” USD Provost Jim Moran told the Leader. “Whenever USD hosts speakers or films that are controversial the goal is to promote education and better understanding of the people and issues involved.”

Unlike state legislators, university officials in South Dakota oppose the bill, which they feel could spark unnecessary and costly litigation. “The bill is redundant and unnecessary,” the president of USD’s student government association told the Leader. “It is an attempt at a solution to a problem that does not exist. There is no great student issue with the current policies and practices of free speech at USD.”

Moreover, USD officials contend that the legislation is premised on an outdated university policy. While the university did previously utilize Free Speech Zones, it has changed its policy and expanded Free Speech protections to all outdoor areas on campus already. “I think it’s very noble to support free speech by all sides of an issue,” USD Director of Communications Tena Haraldson told the Leader. “I just think that already happens.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota also regards the bill as unnecessary. “It’s already the law. It’s already what the Constitution requires,” a policy advisor for the organization told the Leader.

While outgoing Governor Dennis Daugaard (who must step down because of term limits in the state) has not yet decided whether to support the bill, Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican candidate to succeed him, has endorsed the legislation. “Given the rising level of censorship and the concerning limits placed on students’ exposure to differing perspectives, it’s important the Legislature act to permanently protect intellectual diversity on taxpayer-funded campuses,” Noem told the Leader.

Outcome

Killed in House, bill remains under consideration in South Dakota Senate

On February 2, HB 1073 was killed by South Dakota’s House Judiciary Committee. The bill divided Republican committee members, with some voting to support the bill and others to keep it from being taken up on the house floor. SB 198 was referred to the Committee on Education.

External References

HB 1073

SB 198

Lawmakers table campus free speech bill, its twin lives on in S.D. Legislature, The Argus Leader

University of South Dakota movie incident looms large in campus free speech debate, The Argus Leader

SD rep wants colleges to come clean about campus free speech, Campus Reform

Campus free speech bill based on outdated policy, USD spokeswoman says, The Argus Leader

Prepared by Will Haskell ’18

Uploaded March 21, 2018