February 23, 2018
Missouri State Representative Mike Moon has introduced a bill designed to protect freedom of speech on the state’s public-university campuses. Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes more in The National Review:
Missouri House Bill No. 2423 is based on model campus free-speech legislation published by Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. (I co-authored the Goldwater model along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher.) Representative Moon’s bill marks an important turning point in the battle over campus free speech.
Moon was a sponsor of the Missouri Campus Free Expression Act, which became law in 2015. That law bans so-called free-speech zones on campus. As anyone who’s followed the campus free-speech crisis will know, however, there is a lot more at stake in this battle than free-speech zones. Speaker shout-downs and disinvitations are the core of the problem, while conflicts related to security fees for controversial speakers and belief-based discrimination against student groups are factors as well. In the absence of trustee oversight, even formal policy changes may not be enough to prompt reluctant administrators to protect free speech.
Mike Moon’s proposed Missouri Campus Free Speech Act addresses all these issues and more. As Moon said in a statement, “while the 2015 act established a solid foundation . . . additional work is needed to ensure students are free to express their thoughts and ideas without fear of reprisal from students or school administrators.” Moon then highlighted the way his bill “addresses speaker shout-downs and places oversight responsibilities in the hands of the schools’ governing boards.”
Moon’s bill sends a message that advocates of campus free speech are playing the long game. Some campus free-speech bills are more comprehensive than others, but bills that merely target free-speech zones are more like the first step than the last word. States that take initial steps to protect free speech, or states where universities manage to weaken comprehensive bills, will likely face further legislative efforts down the road.