Reilly bill would require colleges uphold First Amendment

Representative John Reilly, R-Oakland, has introduced legislation to strengthen First Amendment protections for citizens attending public colleges and universities.

Rep. Reilly noted that numerous free speech court cases against universities in Michigan have either been settled out of court or ruled against the universities.

“The Legislature has not only the authority, but a compelling duty to protect the free speech rights of its citizens and to shield its taxpaying citizens from unnecessary financial liability arising from ambiguity in existing policies,” he said.

Reilly noted a pending case against Kellogg Community College in which a student was handcuffed and jailed for circulating copies of the U.S. Constitution.  He also pointed to recently settled cases against Grand Valley State UniversityWestern Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University.  In addition, he noted a ruling in Doe v. Michigan in which the court found a University of Michigan policy forbidding the “stigmatizing or victimizing” of individuals or groups a violation of protected speech rights under the First Amendment.

“It shouldn’t be necessary to codify the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and corresponding speech protections in our state Constitution, but sadly, these ongoing, pervasive problems prove that we do,” Rep. Reilly said. “These cases simply codify the court rulings that have consistently upheld the right to free speech on public campuses.”

House Bill 4656, cosponsored by Reps. Hoitenga, Hornberger, Iden, Johnson, Kelly, Lilly, Lucido, Noble, Robinson, Runestad and Victory, would require Michigan’s 43 public colleges and universities to adopt free speech policies that include:

  • An affirmation that the school strives to ensure the greatest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.
  • An affirmation of the right to free speech.
  • An affirmation of the right to assembly.
  • An affirmation of the right to protest, provided it does not infringe on the rights of others to engage in or listen to others.
  • An affirmation that the campus is open to any speaker whom students, student groups or faculty invite.
  • An affirmation that the public areas of campuses are traditional public forums, open on the same terms to any speaker.
  • An affirmation to prohibit discrimination against belief-based student groups.
  • An affirmation that this policy supersedes any previous policy.

It would further require the schools to make this policy known to students, professors, administrators, campus police and residence life officials.

House Bill 4656 was referred to the House Oversight Committee.

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