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Congressmen put colleges on notice: Protect free speech or lose federal funding

(Photo: Charyssa Parent)

For over three hours on Thursday, members of the House of Representatives held a hearing advocating for freedom of speech on college campuses.

“My message is clear, we shouldn’t be restricting free speech on college campuses,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) told Red Alert Politics.

Rep. Jordan chaired the hearing addressing recent violent protests on college campuses targeting conservative speeches and college groups.

“Look at what’s going on on college campuses. The shout-downs, the heckling, the riots,” he continued.

His call to action for universities is that they abide by the First Amendment.

“The attack on free speech is a real concern, particularly when some of these universities are getting so much tax dollars from the American taxpayers,” he said.

Rep. Jordan said that he is willing to support legislation that strips federal funds from public colleges that restrict or limit students from expressing their views freely and safely on college campuses. But after the hearing, he walked back this proposal.

“Who knows? I think it’s more about raising the awareness and talking about the issues,” Jordan said.

When asked if he was going to draft the legislation, he told Red Alert Politics, “We hope we don’t have to resort to that, but, you know, when you’re looking at these issues, that’s something that may be looked at in the future but certainly not now.”

To combat campus violence, some universities have implemented ‘safe spaces’ on campus for students, who feel marginalized can go to discuss their views. Many universities also abide by speech codes, which are widely seen by conservatives as restrictions to students’ First Amendment rights. Rep. Jordan spoke out against both in the hearing.

“They talk about a speech code. The speech code is the First Amendment,” Jordan said.

During the hearing, Republican members argued that public universities have largely tried to silence conservative voices on campus with violent protests or by canceling conservative speeches. Jordan said this hearing will be one of many and universities should take notice.

“We know what’s happening on college campuses to people who come from a conservative or libertarian perspective,” Jordan said

Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator and editor-in-chief at the Daily Wire who has been at the forefront of the argument for free speech, testified at the hearing. Shapiro has been in an ongoing battle with UC-Berkeley over giving a speech on campus and has been greeted with violent protests when speaking on public school campuses across the country. He was asked to testify and detail his experience with members of Congress.

In addition, comedian and filmmaker Adam Carolla, New York Law Professor Nadine Strossen, ADL’s National Commissioner Frederick Lawrence, Evergreen State College former Provost and VP Dr. Michael Zimmerman all testified in front of Congress.

(Photo: Charyssa Parent)

“I have no problem with people protesting my speeches. I do have a problem with people who won’t let me speak,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro has argued that some campuses are not only unwelcoming, but unsafe for conservatives to express their viewpoints. He continued to say that administrators of these universities are oftentimes working to suppress conservative voices.

“There’s going to have to be some sort of consequences for administrators who don’t abide by the current law. Because what they are doing is essentially saying we can’t shut down this speech. But if you go and you make a big fuss then we’ll say in order to shut down the fuss, we have to shut down the speech,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro testified that at his speeches he does not mind if those who oppose his message want to attend. He says that he encourages those who disagree with his views to ask questions and discuss differences. Where Shapiro argued that he does mind it when he faces threats and violent riots in opposition to his views.

“If they continue to do this, then I don’t see why my taxpayer dollars should be going to a university that bans me. Because the university does not protect my rights to free speech,” Shapiro said.

Students from across the country came to the Capitol for the hearing with a line of nearly 40 people waiting to get in.

You can watch the full hearing here.

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