Lawmakers Debate Legislating Free Speech at Texas Colleges

Texas lawmakers continue to discuss ways to protect free speech on college campuses, though school administrators insist there is no problem.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick directed the State Affairs Committee to study the issue after students at Texas Southern University prompted adminstrators to cancel a speech by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park.

Alt-right speaker Richard Spencer prompted protests at both Texas A&M and University of Virginia, but Samantha Harris at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education says suppression of free speech comes in many forms.

“Supress the speech of students and the ability of students to invite far less controversial speakers to campus, so this is not just a problem of these very high-profile controversial speakers,” she says.

Young Conservatives of Texas sued Lone Star College-CyFair last year after it derecognized the group.  A pro-life cross also was vandalized on the campus of Southern Methodist University in 2016.

“You have a lot administrators who will say they support free speech in theory, but when the rubber meets the road they're taking actions that are not consistent with students' right to free speech,” says Harris.

Schools argue any legislation is overreach because of the First Amendment, but Harris says there is a simple fix.

“Legislatures can just pass a bill saying traditionally public areas of campus -- greens, park-like spaces, things like that – can and must be open to student expressive activities,” she says.

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