Free Speech

ALEC Model Policy Protects Speech on Campus, Representative Taylor

In an August 1, 2017 op-ed, State Representative Chris Taylor of Wisconsin spent a lot of time attacking the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). As the director of the ALEC Center to Protect Free Speech I am honored to work every day to ensure her right to speak is protected—especially if it is speech I personally disagree with. However, free speech does not mean one should not be held accountable for the things they say. And just as consumers have the right to access truthful information, Huff Post readers, and the constituents of Ms. Taylor’s district have a right to TRUTHFUL information.

I want to set the record straight about ALEC’s campus speech model policy, the Forming Robust and Open University Minds (FORUM) Act. Sadly, Representative Taylor purposely misleads her audience by stating ALEC pushes “model bills to punish political speech and protesting on campus.” It is quite clear Representative Taylor did not actually read the model policy before writing her piece. Out of respect for Huff Post readers and the constituents of Representative Taylor’s district, let me take some time to actually explain the FORUM Act.

The FORUM Act does not “punish political speech and protesting on campus.” The FORUM Act, does, however, do the following:

  • Eliminates “free speech zones”
  • Protects the right of all people to engage in lawful expression
  • Protects students and student groups from disciplinary action because of their lawful expression, including belief-based organizations
  • Makes clear a counter-protest in and of itself, is not an “infringement” or does not “interfere” with the free speech rights of others
  • Requires students can be educated regarding their free speech rights and responsibilities
  • Requires administrators, campus police, etc. understand their duties regarding free expression on campus
  • Empowers legislators to hold universities accountable by requiring each institution to report on free speech issues prior to the legislature’s appropriations process
  • Allows alleged victims to bring a cause of action for violation of their free speech rights

The FORUM Act, unlike model policies introduced by other organizations, does not mandate the suspension or expulsion of students. Why is this important? Because the goals of any campus speech legislation should be to encourage students to express themselves openly on campus and respect the free speech rights of others. If students fear their expressive activities could unnecessarily land them in a campus disciplinary hearing, they may choose to sit on the sidelines.

Take for instance a hypothetical example of a student-led Black Lives Matter (BLM) rally on a college campus. The students decide they want to counter protest when the National Federation of Police comes to campus for a lecture series. Under some model policies mandating suspension or even expulsion for students who “infringe on the free expression rights of others,” (punishment) this vague language may scare BLM supporters from expressing themselves altogether. Instead of them holding a peaceful, lawful counter demonstration, they may choose instead to stay in their dormitory out of fear the campus police or the Student Life Administrator will punish them for simply expressing political views some may find offensive.

The same goes in the reverse. The Students for Life chapter at a public university protesting against the CEO of Planned Parenthood should not have to worry about a biased pro-choice administrator punishing the group because they don’t like the graphics on their signs.

The FORUM Act does not punish students for expressing themselves on campus—in fact, discipline is not even part of the model policy. The only “punishment” in the FORUM Act is in Section 9 that allows victims whose free speech rights have been violated to bring suit. Furthermore, the FORUM Act allows any person or student organization aggrieved by a violation of the act to assert such violation as a defense or counter claim in any disciplinary action or in any civil or administrative proceedings brought against such student or student organization.

The FORUM Act protects speech. It does not punish speech.

Representative Taylor is wrong about the FORUM Act when she says it “punish[es] political speech and protesting on campus.”

In Depth: Free Speech

Freedom of speech is paramount for the American system of government and American culture. Born from revolution, American society has been created, evolved and progressed based in part, on the First Amendment. More specifically, free speech allows individual’s to use their own voice to ensure “We the People” would control…

+ Free Speech In Depth