Tennessee lawmakers will not vote on a bill designed to ensure robust free speech on taxpayer-funded college campuses in the state because they fear ISIS terrorists could possibly show up and start recruiting new members.
The bill, the Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act, would require Tennessee’s public colleges and universities to adopt a broad set of policies protecting free expression. It would prevent school officials and professors from “punishing, disciplining, or censuring students” for their speech. It would also ban so-called “bias-reporting systems” and “trigger warnings.” It would make free speech zones verboten as well. Instead, with a few limitations, entire campuses would become free speech zones.
The free-speech bill ran met its end in the Tennessee General Assembly when Memphis Democrat John DeBerry Jr. expressed his concerns that the proposed law would allow members and supporters of ISIS to appear on various university quads and “recruit for ISIS.”
DeBerry said free speech should be limited because of “these extraordinary times in our country right now.”
“When I went to school, there was no Internet,” the graduate of the public University of Memphis said. “And, growing up in the ’60s in the time of protest and change, umm, uhh, you know, it was an extraordinary time in our country because people were, uhh, talking about various rights and freedom of speech, uhh, for the betterment of the nation.”
“I would like to know, before I vote, if you and others who believe in this bill have taken into consideration the fact that it’s not the same world, that you have a lot of people who want to speak on our public-financed and public-funded universities, who want to speak against universities, who want to speak against the administration, who want to speak against the country, who want to speak against the Constitution and everything that we believe in — and that there are young people who are not ready yet — they’re half-baked, half-cooked — who are being recruited, uhh, to, uhh, work against their own parents, their own nation. And I — I would be concerned, as a parent and as a — as a citizen, umm, you know, if, if umm, you know,” DeBerry continued, stammering.
“I think that you can’t have a nation and keep it safe and sane unless there are some rules and some norms — certain things that are accepted and certain things that are not,” DeBerry declared.
“I think that, you know, we talk about free speech and, uhh, I don’t think the framers of the Constitution meant to just destroy ourselves from within.”
“Should someone be able to stand in the marketplace or in the town square at the University of Tennessee, University of Memphis, Murfreesboro, Cookeville, Austin Peay, uh, and, and recruit for ISIS?” DeBerry then asked.
DeBerry’s full anti-free speech rant can be heard in this video. His exchange with the main sponsor of the bill, Knoxville Republican Martin Daniel, begins roughly after the one-hour mark.
Daniel said he believes that the state’s commitment to free speech on campus must extend even to beliefs most people find repugnant.
“Yes,” Daniel answered. “So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus. Yes, sir. They can recruit people for any other organization or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”
Daniel noted that taxpayer-funded Tennessee State University enforces a policy outlawing any action by students that school officials deem a disruption. He also observed that taxpayer-funded Middle Tennessee State University requires students to fill out forms five days before they can distribute handbills to other students on campus.
“Our schools are tending towards shielding students away from objectionable speech,” Daniel told the House Standing Committee on education, administration and planning, at which discussion of the bill occurred.
Right after Daniel answered DeBerry’s charge that allowing free speech on public college campuses would allow ISIS recruiting, committee chairman Mark White, a Republican, advised that the bill should be tabled indefinitely, reports The Tennessean, Nashville’s main newspaper.
Daniel indicated that he hopes the bill can be revived this summer.
Nine Tennessee lawmakers, all Republican, have sponsored the free speech bill. (RELATED: SANITY: Tennessee Law Would Outlaw Punishing Students For Speaking Freely, ‘Microagressions’)