'Countless examples' contradict Edwards on campus free speech

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) thinks that protecting free speech on campus is “a solution in search of a problem,” but First Amendment advocates say they know just where to look.

In a statement attached to his veto of House Bill 269 Tuesday, Edwards declared that it would be “overly burdensome” for public colleges and universities to adopt robust commitments to freedom of expression because “the freedoms this bill attempts to protect are already well-established” by the First Amendment.

[RELATED: Louisiana Gov.: Protecting free speech is ‘overly burdensome’]

Free speech advocates expressed predictable dismay over the veto, taking particular umbrage at his claim that the problems they have long highlighted do not actually exist.

The veto in Louisiana is especially galling to the Goldwater Institute, which collaborated with Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center to craft the model legislation that served as the framework for HB 269, along with more than a dozen similar bills that have been proposed in other states.

“While Governor Edwards maintained in his veto letter that House Bill 269 was unnecessary to provide speech protections already granted by the First Amendment, there are countless examples of free expression being denied on college campuses,” the Goldwater Institute declared in a press release. “In Louisiana, for instance, speech and assembly activities at Southeastern Louisiana University are limited to a single two-hour time period every seven days—sending the message that free speech is not welcome on campus most of the time.”

[RELATED: Heritage panel promotes legislation to protect free speech on campus]

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has also kept a vigilant eye on the state of free speech at Louisiana’s public colleges and universities, and responded to Edwards’ veto statement by pointing out that it has not identified a single school in the state that does not maintain at least one policy restricting freedom of speech.

On the other hand, FIRE observes that Louisiana does have three schools with “yellow light” ratings for limited speech restrictions, and another six that have earned “red light” ratings for policies that “clearly and substantially” infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.

Louisiana State University even made it into FIRE’s list of the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” in 2016, though the school managed to stay off the list published in 2017.

Citing such examples, Goldwater Institute Education Director Jonathan Butcher called the veto of HB 269 “problematic,” telling Campus Reform that Edwards has severely underestimated the actual threats to campus free speech in the state of Louisiana.

"This bill would have protected free speech on state campuses for faculty, staff, and students," Butcher elaborated. "Incidents at Louisiana institutions, like recent student complaints about the curbing of free speech at the University of Louisiana Lafayette or the restrictive free speech zone at Southeastern Louisiana University, are evidence that this is a problem in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ state and around the country."

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