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Republicans introduce bill to eliminate speech codes at NH colleges

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The largest newspaper in New Hampshire has endorsed the elimination of campus speech codes.

The New Hampshire Union Leader on Sunday supported no speech codes for the University System of New Hampshire if “the university system expects its students to learn anything.”

Recent campus controversies and protests from Yale to Missouri to Oberlin College have pushed free speech concerns and the role of a university education to the forefront of debate. Students, concerned that university administrations have not done enough to address racism and other issues, have protested and called for limitations on speech and expression in favor of sensitivity or avoiding “offensive” speech.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has documented and litigated against initiatives to limit speech on campuses for years. In 2012, the University of Chicago adopted a “statement on principles of free expression” that opposes limiting speech, which has been adopted by other colleges such as Purdue University.

“Fundamentally, however, the University is committed to the principle that it may not restrict debate or deliberation because the ideas put forth are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the members of the University community to make those judgments for themselves,” the statement said.

In that spirit, New Hampshire State Representative Frank Edelblut introduced a bill to reinforce that free speech is protected under the First Amendment on New Hampshire public university campuses.

“The First Amendment already protects speech at public universities, so Edelblut’s bill shouldn’t be necessary. But it is, so long as colleges put political correctness ahead of intellectual debate,” the Union Leader editorial said.

In 2004, a student at the University of New Hampshire posted a satirical flier encouraging women to lose weight. University administration charged him with “acts of dishonesty,” “harassment,” “conduct which is disorderly,” and said he violated affirmative action policies. FIRE fought the university for its free speech violations, and the student didn’t face the threat of eviction.

Incidents across the country that threaten freedom of speech and expression, even when that speech is juvenile or offensive, shows that institutions continue to use their power to limit constitutional rights and threaten the open, vital mission of higher education. Momentum, however, has started to shift toward protection of vital rights, regardless of their distastefulness.

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