How Congress can promote freedom of speech on college campuses

We’ve discussed Stanley Kurtz’s effort, in conjunction with the Goldwater Institute, to promote free speech on college campuses through the enactment of state legislation mandating it. Now, Stanley has a proposal that, if enacted, would do even more for campus free speech.

Stanley wants federal legislation to make the protection of First Amendment rights a prerequisite of federal financial assistance to America’s colleges and universities. He presents his proposal and his reasons here, on NRO’s Corner. His proposal builds on the work of the National Association of Scholars.

In my view, the presumption should be against the federal government using its financial leverage to tell colleges and universities what to do. Certainly, bureaucrats should be (but aren’t) loath to indulge in this practice.

On the other hand, federal taxpayers cannot be expected to fund institutions that deny people their basic constitutional rights. The right of free speech is probably our most fundamental constitutional right and, until recently, the free exchange of ideas was considered an essential element of the college experience.

Unfortunately, in the past several decades the academy has ceased to be a reliable defender of the First Amendment. We now face a free speech crisis on many, if not most, college campuses.

Accordingly, the case for congressional action is strong.

Actually, Stanley points out that the Higher Education Act (HEA), enacted in 1965 and last reauthorized in 2008, already affirms the importance of protecting “student speech and association rights.” Title I, Section 112 of HEA provides that “no student…should, on the basis of participation in protected speech…be subjected to…official sanction,” with “protected speech” defined as “speech protected under the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution.”

However, Title I, Section 112 of HEA express only the “sense of Congress.” Stanley wants to give it teeth by adding enforcement mechanisms.

The HEA is due to be reauthorized this year. This presents Congress with a great opportunity to restore the First Amendment on college campuses.

Stanley concludes:

The American taxpayer is under no obligation to subsidize speech codes, speaker disinvitations, or shout-downs. It’s past time that Congress took steps to ensure that taxpayer dollars no long underwrite campus assaults on freedom of speech.

Indeed, it is.

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