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Ronald Reagan, Free Minds, and Free Speech on Campus

October 31, 2018

by Rachel McPherson
October 31, 2018

“The issue that we’re fighting about here is really the issue of free minds,” Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Jim Manley remarked in discussing campus free speech on Pacific Research Institute’s “Next Round” podcast.

“[Ronald] Reagan said it best,” Manley continued. “‘Do we have the ability, the dignity, and the right to make our own decisions and determine our own destiny?’—and that’s what this is about. Do students have the ability to decide for themselves truth from fiction? Or do they need their administrators and their professors to be their censors and decide for them what speech is off-limits or what ideas they shouldn’t consider?”

The answer seems obvious; however, the state of campus free speech isn’t exactly healthy. Colleges are still slapping student groups with security fees that can soar into the thousands of dollars. In other cases, speakers are shouted off stage or are forced to cancel due to the threat of violence.

That’s why Manley co-authored Goldwater’s Campus Free Speech Act, model legislation that has inspired states across the country to consider and pass their own bills to protect the ability of students, faculty, and speakers to express themselves freely on college campuses.

The goal of Goldwater’s Campus Free Speech Act is to ensure that all voices are heard on college campuses. It does this by creating an official university policy that affirms free expression, establishes disciplinary procedures for anyone who interferes with the free speech rights of others, and prevents administrators from disinviting speakers. Passing the Act through state legislatures is one way to protect free speech on college campuses going forward.

State legislatures in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia have all passed legislation based on Goldwater’s Campus Free Speech Act—and Manley hopes others will follow suit. “The legislature has ultimate responsibility for protecting individual rights on campus. They need to take a strong stand and say, ‘These are the values that are important to us in our state. We respect the right of everyone to have their own opinion and the right of people to disagree in a civil way.’”

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

Rachel McPherson is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.



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