Lawmaker discusses his pro-free speech bill to improve students' experience at public universities

HB3543, proposed by state Rep. Chad Caldwell (R), would establish the Oklahoma Free Speech Committee to review First Amendment protections and complaints.

'Many students and staff have expressed that they simply chose to stay quiet regarding various topics simply to avoid potential punishment,' Caldwell said.

The Oklahoma legislature is considering a bill aimed at improving free speech protections at colleges and universities in the state.

HB3543, proposed by Republican lawmaker Chad Caldwell, would establish the Oklahoma Free Speech Committee to review First Amendment protections and complaints in higher education under the auspices of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

 "Students, faculty, and staff should feel free to express their beliefs at any public college or university across the country without worry of punishment or academic consequences," Rep. Caldwell told Campus Reform. 

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Furthermore, the Oklahoma Free Speech Committee would develop a First Amendment training required for all administrative leaders, including deans, department heads, and those responsible for establishing free speech policy and considering complaints.

The bill does not address specific curricula that would be taught in the training.

The content of the training would be left up to the state board of regents,” Caldwell explained“I would imagine it would include what is protected speech and what isn’t, how to promote free speech to faculty, staff, and students, and how to deal with issues concerning free speech when conflict arises among other topics.”

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The lawmaker also believes that the bill, if passed, will help students and staff members better express themselves.

“Many students and staff have expressed that they simply chose to stay quiet regarding various topics simply to avoid potential punishment,” Caldwell said.

“It’s not okay to just want free speech when you agree with what is said," he continued. "Collectively, we must stand to support the speech of others especially when we don’t agree with it. If we are not willing to do that, who will stand to protect our speech?”

Oklahoma University student Kyle Garibaldi told Campus Reform he supports the idea of the bill.

“We are in a gray area of free speech on college campuses,” Garibaldi told Campus Reform.

Garibaldi explained the importance and benefit of free speech training over other topics such as diversity and inclusion. However, he stated that such training should not be necessary in the first place.

“I shouldn’t have to be trained on how to treat people," he concluded. 

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