Members of the UISG wait outside the Iowa State Capitol building for the Hawkeye Caucus on April 5, 2016. Hawkeyes Caucus day highlights the University of Iowa's accomplishments in Iowa City and around the state once a year at the Capitol building in Des Moines. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

Jaimes: Iowa Legislature considers free-speech bill


Iowa Senate passes a bill protecting free speech on campus, upsetting many because of fear of discrimination.

Marina Jaimes

Last week, the Iowa Senate passed a bill introduced by Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, protecting free speech on campus. Senate File 2344 could potentially resolve two cases at the University of Iowa, including a Muslim student group, Imam Mahdi, that requires its members to be Shia Muslims, and a Christian student group, Business Leaders in Christ, whose status as a campus organization was revoked because of denying a vice presidential position to an openly gay student. A federal judge ruled in January that the Christian group be allowed back on campus because of the UI’s “selective enforcement of an otherwise reasonable and viewpoint-neutral nondiscrimination policy,” according to the court order.

Sinclair also tied this bill to hosting speakers on campus, stating, “We see speakers who are invited in not being allowed to come … this bill allows us a free exchange of ideas that’s not limited by our emotions. It allows us a free exchange of ideas anywhere that is a public space, as it should be on any publicly funded college or university.”

In response to the bill, Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said, “We have in essence legalized discrimination, which I believe is a very dangerous and unfortunate thing to be doing …” — referring to an amendment in the bill that allows groups to deny membership based on sex, gender, and/or sexual orientation. His concern would be validated if it were not for groups such as Business Leaders in Christ and Imam Mahdi, which would be asked to go against their religious beliefs without the bill. His opposition to the Republican-sponsored bill does not, however, mimic his thoughts on free speech toward gun control on campus, which would also be protected under the bill. As Roosevelt students marched for gun control on March 1, McCoy tweeted his support to them for making their voice heard. Praising free speech on campus for a leftist value is peak hypocrisy for the senator, who believes that the First Amendment should not protect ideas he disagrees with.

RELATED: Free-speech bill moves to Iowa House following lawsuit against UI

This bill comes at a time when a student in Iowa’s neighboring state revealed the reality of groupthink and denial of First Amendment rights on college campuses. Early in the 2017-18 school year, the president of Turning Point USA at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was harshly and publicly harassed by a graduate student for her advocacy of capitalism. The police later threatened to remove her table from the public university’s space because she had not reserved the spot prior to recruiting on campus.

In terms of speakers, in the past week, two colleges have faced incidents of protests toward conservative guests on campus. Jordan B. Peterson was shouted down at Queens University on Monday, as protesters screamed at attendees who were gathering peacefully to hear him speak. That same day at Lewis & Clark Law School, Christina Hoff Sommers was scheduled to speak, but the event was later canceled because of angry Antifa protesters.

McCoy and thinkers like him fail to realize that freedom of speech for one student does not take away from the freedom of speech granted to another. Perhaps if leftists viewed the right to free speech as a privilege, they would understand that it seems invisible to those who already have it. When liberal students feel comfortable in spewing their views on campus, they are reinforced in their beliefs by their professors and classmates. The irrational fear that overcomes McCoy, a fear of words and ideas, is only troubling to him because equality, pertaining to free speech, is so rarely seen in left-leaning institutions.

As Iowa Democrats focus on ending “legalized discrimination,” they failed to raise awareness on parts of the bill that would encourage and protect open dialogue and safe exchange of ideas for all students, including those in the political minority on campus.

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