The Real Threat to Campus Free Speech Is Here


For anyone who still thinks the greatest threat to free speech comes from liberal college students whose desire for political correctness has run amok, meet the Republican Party’s new education bill, which is currently working its way through Congress.

As The New York Times reported on Thursday, the GOP’s wide-ranging higher education bill includes a number of provisions wrapped up as gifts for the religious right, including one that would prevent the federal government from taking action against colleges that wish to discriminate against, say, LGBTQ students:

The provision that particularly worries [David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign] prohibits the government from taking action against colleges—such as revoking their tax-exempt status or disqualifying their students from federal loans—for policies related to their religious mission or affiliation.
And if such a college loses its accreditation, which would typically render it ineligible for federal loan programs, the proposed law lays out a process for the college to appeal to the education secretary to maintain its eligibility.
The bill does not mention sexual orientation or gender, but its intent is clear. At some Christian colleges, gay dating or marriage is forbidden, and same-sex couples are not permitted to live together in married-student housing.

The legislation would also make it easier for religious student groups at public colleges to discriminate against their fellow students:

Another element of the bill addresses a common college practice—requiring religious student groups that want school funds or meeting space to admit any student, regardless of their faith, and to grant them all the same access to leadership positions. The measure, which would apply only to public universities, would prohibit them from having such policies if they wanted access to federal aid.
It would counteract a Supreme Court decision in 2010 that allowed the University of California Hastings College of the Law to withhold recognition from a student group, the Christian Legal Society, because it blocked gay students from having voting privileges or leadership roles.

Another provision in the loathsome bill would prevent colleges from “punishing fraternities and sororities for refusing to admit members of the opposite sex,” according to the Times. The legislation also criticizes “free speech zones,” in reaction to students who have shut down racist speakers on campus like Milo Yiannopoulos and would require campuses to publicly disclose their speech policies.

In contrast to the number of columns that have come out over the years deriding political correctness on college campuses, this bill makes perfectly clear that the true threat to free speech on campuses aren’t the snowflake students. It is conservative state legislators in Nebraska demanding college faculty turn over private emails because of fears that University of Nebraska faculty are “hostile towards conservative students.” It is the ideological takeover by wealthy donors like the Koch brothers and tech companies. And, as this bill shows, it is the GOP at the federal level, pushing forward legislation that’s actively hostile to LGBTQ students on campus.

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