With incidents of First Amendment violations surging on college campuses, Rep. Dave Brat proposed legislation Monday that would safeguard the freedom of speech and assembly that he and some experts consider imperiled.
The bill would make clear that students whose rights were violated could sue for monetary damages, and would ban some schools’ practice of limiting students’ First Amendment rights to specific space, times or days on campus.
“American universities, once the crucible for our nation’s young citizens, are in danger of becoming an echo chamber where minority views are silenced,” Mr. Brat, a Virginia Republican, said in a statement.
The bill is one of a number of lame-duck suggestions unlikely to see action, and with Mr. Brat having lost his re-election bid its not clear whether anyone else would pick up his push in the new Congress next year.
But it comes at a time when speakers on campuses, editorials and articles in college papers, and even political stands set up in so-called “free speech zones” have been challenged by activists who declare the expressed views toxic or hateful.
Last week, the University of California at Berkeley agreed to pay conservative groups $70,000 and alter the university’s major events policy to settle a federal lawsuit the groups launched last year after they accused the school of severe restrictions on guest speakers.
Clashes and heightened tensions have been reported on campuses from Evergreen State College in Washington to the University of Texas at Austin.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a leading First Amendment group with the academy, said it had consulted with Mr. Brat last month on the legislation but had not yet seen the final language of the bill and thus withheld comment.
“But I would say FIRE is grateful to Rep. Brat for bringing up the issue and keeping the discussion about the First Amendment problems on campus active,” said Joe Cohn, FIRE’s legislative and policy director.
The Student Rights Act would “protect students’ rights to free speech, right of assembly and right of association at public institutions of higher education. It would also “protect the rights of political and religious student groups to freely select their leadership and membership,” according to Mr. Brat’s office.