Freedom of speech is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. It should be revered on our college campuses. Sadly, that is where it is most at risk.
Young America’s Foundation (YAF) joined with U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan and U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack to create a Congressional Free Speech Caucus. In addition to drawing attention to the issue of cancel culture blocking the free speech rights of students on campus, we hope that the new caucus will help remove barriers to free speech at the federal level. Sadly, there are endless examples across the country of why the caucus is needed.
Internal emails obtained through YAF‘s Censorship Exposed project revealed how administrators at the University of Minnesota planned to cap attendance arbitrarily at 500 students (even pre-COVID) for a YAF-sponsored Ben Shapiro campus lecture. They also planned to move the event from the main campus in Minneapolis to a remote area campus — presumably to limit attendance and awareness. These same standards are not typically applied to other organizations.
YAF, in partnership with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the University of Minnesota in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the speech policy and the active suppression of student speech. Oral arguments were heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit last month.
University of Minnesota officials attempted to stifle the free speech of conservative students on campus, solely in fear of how liberal students might react to hearing a new perspective. Government-run university administrators don’t get to pick and choose which viewpoints are welcome on campus. They should never cave to the mob. The First Amendment protects speech for all — and YAF will continue to hold accountable any schools in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer correctly noted that “Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students. The University of Minnesota has allowed far-left speakers, including U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar to speak in the same hall it refused to Mr. Shapiro. Universities that pick and choose which voices can be heard on campus violate the First Amendment.” This is one of many free speech cases we are working on around the nation.
Thankfully, we have plenty of success stories too. Officials at the University of Virginia (UVA) denied the YAF chapter recognition as a student organization. The reason? They wanted them to change their constitution and bylaws to allow individuals who disagree with the chapter’s conservative mission to serve in leadership positions.
Working with ADF, YAF threatened a First Amendment lawsuit. In addition, former Virginia Gov. George Allen helped pressure UVA administrators to officially recognize the chapter. In the end, they did.
Officials at the University of Florida introduced a new policy to keep conservative speakers off campus after the YAF chapter hosted Dinesh D’Souza for a YAF-sponsored campus lecture. Their new policy prohibited non-budgeted student organizations from using student activity fee funding to cover honoraria for guest speakers. At the time, YAF was the only non-budgeted student organization to request funding to cover guest speaker honoraria.
The university backed away from the policy after the YAF chapter filed a federal lawsuit asserting both First and Fourteenth Amendment violations. But last year, the student government tried to change the formula to again block YAF. Again, YAF teamed up with ADF to notify the University of Florida officials that this was still a violation of constitutional rights. The administration ultimately overruled the student government.
At the State University of New York at Binghamton,College Progressives and other agitators interrupted the remarks of Art Laffer within seconds of him taking the podium. Campus police observed the chaos, but took no action to prevent the unlawful disruption.
Amazingly, the campus police removed Mr. Laffer from the lecture hall before he was able to give his speech — and did not remove the agitators. The school failed to honor its obligations to protect freedom of speech. Furthermore, it failed to protect the rights of the students who showed up to hear the lecture on economic freedom.
YAF — joined by the local College Republicans as plaintiffs — with the legal assistance of ADF — filed a federal lawsuit against the leadership at SUNY-Binghamton and the agitators involved in the disruption of Mr. Laffer. Thanks to the Constitution, we will win this case.
Without a doubt, I believe that radicals are trying to clamp down on conservative voices on campus. The evidence is overwhelming.
This form of cancel culture is more than liberal bias. They are literally prohibiting conservative voices from being heard on campus — and increasingly in American culture.
We must fight back. The Congressional Free Speech Caucus is one more way to push back against the radicals. The left does not want us to have a voice on campus because common-sense conservative ideas work — which is exactly why we must continue to persist for freedom!
• Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him @ScottWalker.