In this special edition of The Gaggle The Republic’s politics team discusses the #RedForEd movement. Carly Henry and Hayley Sanchez/azcentral.com
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Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill this week designed to protect free speech on college campuses, though Arizona schools largely have avoided the types of problems the measure seeks to address.
House Bill 2563, sponsored by Phoenix Republican Rep. Paul Boyer, directs the three state universities and community colleges to create free-expression policies that “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom.”
The new law will require reporting on speech infringement, consequences for those who impede speech and a 15-member university committee on free expression, among other requirements.
The president of the state’s largest university sees one group in particular that’s guilty of trying to restrict speech — state lawmakers.
Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, said he intends to report when lawmakers try to hinder certain speakers or events based on the content of their speech, something that has happened numerous times, he said.
Model legislation for the country
The Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank in Phoenix, authored the bill and wants it to become model legislation across the country. Boyer said he also got input on the bill from the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy, both conservative Christian organizations.
So far, North Carolina has passed a version of the law, and the Wisconsin Board of Regents passed a policy similar to the bill. A handful of other states are considering similar measures.
READ: Goldwater Institute calls Arizona teacher walkout unconstitutional
The most-cited example offered by free speech advocates of the “campus free speech crisis” happened in California.
A potential speech by right-wing rabble-rouser Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California-Berkeley, led to massive protests. His initial appearance was canceled, though he later came to campus.
Nothing near that magnitude has happened in Arizona.
RELATED: Far-right provocateur has another Phoenix-area event canceled
Few incidents in Arizona
There have been a few minor instances of free speech problems at Arizona campuses, but nothing major, Boyer said. As an example, he pointed to the University of Arizona’s plan last year to hire social justice advocates who would report on incidents of bias, which some derided as “speech police.”
He wants the relative speech-friendliness of the universities to remain the case, which is why he thinks the bill is necessary.
Basically, any restrictions on speech should be “content-neutral,” meaning there can be limits on the time, place and manner of free expression, but not the type of message being delivered, Boyer said.
“If you’re a Bernie bro or a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, you have a right to have your speech protected,” Boyer said.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech and expression. But the bill’s sponsor and author say the new law will further protect the rights enshrined in the constitution.
The universities were neutral on the bill. At an April Arizona Board of Regents meeting, the regents and university representatives said the bill was an inevitability since it was designed as model legislation for the rest of the country.
Eileen Klein, then the president of ABOR and now the state treasurer, said during the meeting that efforts to expand speech can often wind up curtailing it.
The universities got the bill in “as good of shape as possible,” but would make sure to monitor how it affects speech as the law goes into effect, Klein said during the meeting.
Bill creates process for speech issues
The bill requires the Arizona Board of Regents and, separately, the community college districts, to set up committees that will monitor free speech and report any infringements or problems.
The committees will keep track of speech infringements and monitor follow-up actions by the university administrations, said Jim Manley, a senior fellow at the Goldwater Institute who co-authored the model legislation.
Manley said the universities and colleges in Arizona should be commended for working with the Legislature on this bill. Administrations change, however, which is why he said the bill is necessary.
Part of the bill’s intent is to quell the so-called “heckler’s veto,” which is when people seek to get a speaker canceled or restricted through protests, thus infringing on their speech, Manley said.
“If you’re more interested in disrupting people you disagree with, there will be serious consequences,” he said.
HB 2563 allows people who feel the schools have infringed on their free speech rights to sue, setting a minimum fine of $1,000.
The bill also says universities should refrain from taking positions on public policy controversies and that it may be appropriate to suspend or expel students who have repeatedly infringed upon the free-expression rights of others.
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Ducey: Arizona colleges not a problem
In his signing letter, Ducey mentioned headlines about free-speech problems at Berkeley, Harvard University, University of Missouri and Middlebury College — but nothing about Arizona.
“On our state’s public universities and community college campuses, constructive debate is encouraged, free speech is protected and diversity of thought is valued,” Ducey wrote.
He thanked leadership on campuses, as well as professors and students, for their thoughtful and civil discourse.
“I am signing this bill to reaffirm to all of our college campus communities that we should continue to preserve the First Amendment rights of faculty, staff and students,” he wrote.
Manley mentioned two other Arizona examples of speech issues: Paradise Valley Community College’s “free speech zones” and Northern Arizona University students’ responses to NAU President Rita Cheng’s lack of support for “safe spaces.”
“What you see in all of that is a lack of respect for the free exchange of ideas,” Manley said.
Lawmakers complain about free speech to ASU
State lawmakers have contacted the university numerous times to complain about allowing certain speakers on campus based on the content of their messages, Crow told the Arizona Board of Regents in early April.
The bill requires universities to report annually on barriers and disruptions to free speech, and how those disruptions were handled by administrators.
Crow said If he’s required to report things that infringe on speech, he will be sure to include the complaints he gets from lawmakers.
“The most troublesome area is the interference of the Legislature in who might speak on campus. That would be the most troublesome,” Crow said.
The university could not provide written complaints from lawmakers about speakers and events, but provided a sample of topics lawmakers have verbally complained about to ASU. The university would not say which lawmakers specifically made such complaints.
Lawmakers have complained about a course called “The Problem of Whiteness,” ASU said.
Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, sponsored a bill in 2017 that would have prohibited universities and community colleges from holding events, activities or courses that would promote the overthrow of the government or promote division among races.
At the time, Thorpe said the bill was a specific response to the ASU course on whiteness and other university events like “privilege walks.” These events ask participants to step forward if they hold certain types of privilege based on factors like race or wealth to highlight how such factors allow people to get ahead.
MORE: ASU prof receives hate mail over ‘Problem of Whiteness’
Boyer noted that he didn’t hear Thorpe’s bill on prohibiting certain classes in his committee last year because his solution to those sorts of classes is more types of classes and speech, not less.
“I don’t think any speech should be restricted,” he said.
Boyer said Crow is welcome to include those examples in his report, though that goes beyond the bill’s requirements. The bill asks for reports on actual infringements of speech, he said.
Some Christians are outraged that Starbucks’ latest holiday cup features a plain red design instead of explicit references to Christmas.
Video provided by Newsy
Other complaints about the ‘war on Christmas’
The university also received a complaint about Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaking at commencement from an unnamed lawmaker, who said Schultz was the leader of the “war on Christmas.”
There were lawmaker complaints about ASU’s support of the Clinton Global Initiative in 2015, ASU said. At the time, U.S. Sen. John McCain criticized the school’s $500,000 spend on the initiative.
An ASU student sexuality event titled “Go Love Yourself,” which was the subject of a Breitbart story earlier this year, drew opposition from lawmakers, ASU said.
And ASU said lawmakers have complained about transgender and LGBT studies.
Northern Arizona University said it had not received grievances from lawmakers on specific speakers or events on its campus. The University of Arizona did not respond to requests for complaints from lawmakers in time for publication.
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