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September 7, 2017

Phoenix— Governor John Bel Edwards yesterday vetoed a bill that would have protected the right to free speech on Louisiana’s public college campuses. Based on model legislation drafted by the Goldwater Institute, House Bill 269 would have required the state’s public universities to commit to a policy on free expression, created a system of sanctions to ensure that those interfering with others’ free speech rights were properly disciplined, and ensured that students and campus communities could hear from controversial speakers while protecting the right to protest for all people lawfully present on campus.

The bill received overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses (95-0 in the Louisiana House, 30-3 in the Louisiana Senate), a testament to the widespread embrace of free expression for all on public college campuses. Similar legislation based on the Goldwater model has been considered this year in Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, and California.

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. 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. Stories of speakers being shouted down—like American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray at Middlebury College—and violent protests—like those against Evergreen State College professor Bret Weinstein—have frequently appeared in the news in recent months.

“The right to protest peacefully and respectfully must be protected—but so must the right of others to hear from controversial speakers. Respect for free expression must go both ways, and that’s what this legislation was meant to accomplish,” said Jonathan Butcher, education policy director at the Goldwater Institute and co-author of the model legislation on which House Bill 269 was based. “While Governor Edwards may not see how big the threat to free speech is on college campuses, the legislators of Louisiana saw it in near-unanimous fashion, and students and legislators are seeing the need for a solution across the country.”



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