A Texas House representative is putting forth a bill he says would strengthen free speech on college campuses more than other bills with a similar aim.
Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, proposed House Bill 2100 to protect free speech on campuses by guaranteeing everyone who is “lawfully present” has the right to express themselves. Out of a handful of testimonies, no one testified against the bill, which was left pending in committee.
“The bottom line of what this bill does is it’s creating a traditional public forum in these outdoor spaces and goes well further than what the Senate does,” Cain said at the House State Affairs Committee meeting
The bill would include professors and employees in its protections, something Cain said is lacking in Senate Bill 18, a similar bill that aims to protect free speech.
Cain said he wrote the bill based on experiences he had himself, recalling October 2017 when he was supposed to speak at Texas Southern University on behalf of The Federalist Society, an organization that researches the state of legal systems. Cain said once he arrived and began speaking, the event was shut down.
“Before I was able to speak, protest began, which is fine,” Cain said. “I wasn’t offended by that. At one point, the president of the undergraduate university of TSU comes out … he takes the mic and says, ‘This is an unapproved event,’ and shuts it down.”
Cain said the event had been previously approved, and the proper paperwork was filled out.
“You guys can see that if it could happen to me, of course it can happen to you, and so there’s a problem with that,” Cain said.
Thomas Lindsay of the Texas Public Policy Foundation said free speech is a precondition for political debate.
“The First Amendment is not itself political — instead, it makes politics possible,” Lindsay said. “We all remember that back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, there were a number of Southern states that found speech on behalf of (black people’s) civil rights offensive to the community, but the Supreme Court has been clear since the ‘50s that being offensive to the community does not constitute a reason to strike down speech. Even offensive speech is protected.”
Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said HB 2100 will facilitate interactions between organizations and campuses.
“We’ve had a few experiences, for example, at UT, collecting petitions.” Metzger said. “UT would not allow us to do that. A colleague of mine with another organization was actually arrested for collecting petitions on campus … so I think this does a lot to help ensure the free speech of non-profits and that critical interaction with our campuses and state agencies.”
Cain said the bill would ensure college campuses are safe places for people to have a free exchange of ideas.
“I believe this is a really important thing, and I think we all agree that are our campuses should be places of learning and full and vibrant debate,” Cain said.