Harassment of conservative student prompts free speech bill

The sponsor, State Sen. Steve Halloran, has been a vocal critic of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln since August, when several professors were filmed taunting and harassing a conservative student.

A Nebraska state senator recently introduced legislation intended to safeguard free speech on college campuses.

A state lawmaker in Nebraska has introduced legislation requiring that University of Nebraska Board of Regents adopt a policy guaranteeing the right to free speech on campus.

The “Higher Education Free Speech Accountability Act” was introduced Wednesday by Republican State Senator Steve Halloran, who has been a vocal critic of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ever since several professors were filmed harassing a conservative student on campus in August.

In response to the incident, several state senators, including Halloran, wrote a letter to UNL asking why the university is “hostile towards conservatives,” directly mentioning the incident as a case study.

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In addition to adopting a policy affirming the right to free speech on all University of Nebraska campuses, the legislation would also require the Board of Regents to assemble a committee on free speech, which would be tasked with creating an annual report on the “barriers to or incidents of disruption” to free speech on its campuses.

The bill mandates that the policy created by the Board of Regents must include a provision affirming that “students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself.”

The legislation also attempts to prevent disruptions at scheduled speeches, saying, “expressive activity that substantially disrupts the functions of a campus” is not considered speech that is protected by the First Amendment and can be restricted.

“At some level, it’s a means or a way for the university to say ‘We’re doing the right things and we’re willing to report on what those things are,” Halloran told The Lincoln Journal-Star.

Halloran’s bill is based on model legislation put out by the Goldwater Institute in 2017, which has also been used as a resource for bills introduced in several other states.

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Goldwater Institute attorney Jim Manley said in a statement that he is pleased with the introduction of this legislation.

“As students return to campus after their winter breaks, it is inspiring to see the state of Nebraska take campus free speech rights seriously and move toward protecting free expression throughout the University of Nebraska system,” Manley said.

Campus Reform contacted Senator Halloran for comment, but did not receive a response.

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