The Corner

Law & the Courts

Paul Boyer’s Arizona Campus Free Speech Act Heads to Senate

On the campus of UCLA in 2009 (Reuters photo: Lucy Nicholson)

Last week, HB 2563, a campus free-speech bill based on model legislation published by Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, cleared the Arizona State House by a vote of 34 to 22. (I co-authored the Goldwater model along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher.) HB 2563 now heads to the senate.

Although it may not surprise that a model bill published in Arizona should have inspired legislation in that state, HB 2563 marks a significant turning point. Last week, I noted that Mike Moon, one of the sponsors of a 2015 law banning so-called free-speech zones in Missouri, is now backing expanded campus free-speech legislation based on the Goldwater model. This new Arizona bill is another example of the same phenomenon.

A 2016 Arizona law banning so-called free-speech zones is now being expanded into a far more comprehensive effort to protect campus expression. The new bill includes provisions guarding against disinvitations and shout-downs, as well as an independent oversight system, and other protections as well.  So in both Arizona and Missouri, where the recent wave of campus free-speech legislation began several years ago, the trend is toward legislation covering still more issues and areas.

That means the legislative battle over campus free-speech has only just begun. States with no bills or only limited bills are likely to see more ambitious legislation proposed down the road. If the problems with campus free-speech keep proliferating, legislative efforts to combat them will expand as well.

Arizona’s HB 2563 is sponsored by House Education Committee Chair Paul Boyer. Boyer’s day job is teaching “Humane Letters” at a charter school with a classical curriculum (part of the Great Hearts network, which I’ve seen in action and been very impressed by). I find it comforting that the Chair of Arizona’s House Education Committee teaches Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Aquinas, Dante, Rousseau, Marx (yes, Marx), and Dostoevsky, among many others, to 12th graders.

As you might expect, Boyer’s statement on HB 2563 looks to a Great Book for inspiration: “Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #1 says the important question is ‘whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.’ If we are going to keep our Constitutional Republic, we need to continue talking to one another, especially if we don’t always agree. And nowhere is there more of a need for civil disagreement and open debate than on our college campuses. While many bureaucrats say colleges should foster critical thinking, this bill allows for it, as students will have the ability to engage in constructive debate, in contrast to some who try to shut down ideas they disagree with.”

A particularly thoughtful statement, I would say.

With the passage of HB 2563 through the Arizona House, we have evidently entered a new legislative era of sustained and comprehensive efforts to secure freedom of speech on our public college campuses.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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