South Dakota Moves to Protect Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity On Campus

A bill has been introduced in South Dakota’s legislature that would go a long way toward protecting free speech on university and technical school campuses, while also encouraging intellectual diversity. It is House Bill 1073, and it will get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, February 2, at 10:00. (That is in Pierre, for any of you who are intrepid enough to consider attending.)

You can read the text of the bill here. Its free speech protections build on what some other states have done, or are considering. For example:

Section 3. That chapter 13-53 be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:

Any outdoor area of a campus of a public institution of higher education in this state is a public forum. A public institution of higher education may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions narrowly tailored in service of a significant institutional interest only if those restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any restriction shall allow for members of the campus community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature. Nothing in this section limits the right of student expression elsewhere on campus.

Section 4. That chapter 13-53 be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:

Any person who wishes to engage in noncommercial expressive activity on campus may do so freely, as long as the person’s conduct is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education, subject only to the requirements in section 3 of this Act.

A public institution of higher education may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that are narrowly tailored in service of a significant institutional interest only when the restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any such restriction shall allow for members of the campus community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute
literature.
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Nothing in this section limits the right of members of the campus community from holding a counter demonstration if the conduct of any counter demonstration is not unlawful and does not materially and substantially prohibit the free expression rights of others on campus, or disrupts the functioning of the institution of higher education.

If you thought that was already the law–i.e., the 1st Amendment–you are basically right. But we have learned that when it comes to college campuses, the 1st Amendment is not self-executing. It requires a vigilant legislature to make sure that left-wing administrators don’t subvert it.

I am told that backers of the South Dakota law have high hopes for a brief section of the statute that requires public universities and technical schools to promote intellectual diversity:

Section 7. That chapter 13-53 be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:

Each public institution of higher education shall publicly post on the institution’s website, as well as submit to the Governor, to the members of the Senate and House standing committees on education, and to the members of the Joint Committee on Appropriations by December fifteenth of each year, a report that details the actions implemented to comply with the requirements of this Act. A revised report shall also be provided if any changes or updates are made to the actions implemented. The information required in the report includes the following:

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(2) A description of the actions the institution is taking to promote and ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas;

It’s a good idea, and maybe in South Dakota, public colleges will actually comply. I doubt it, though: every public college or university that I know of is run by liberals, and just about all liberals hate “intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.” This part of the legislation expresses a noble idea, but it won’t become reality unless South Dakota’s legislature (as long as it remains in Republican hands, if controlled by Democrats this section will be a dead letter) exercises considerable oversight.

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