Trump officially signs free speech exec. order: If schools censor, 'we will not give them money'

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday intended to require institutions of higher education to “improv[e] transparency and promot[e] free speech” or risk losing their federal research funding.

In a document provided to the media, the Trump administration reiterated its commitment to “ensuring” that higher education will be a place of “free thought and debate” and that public schools should “fulfill their obligation to uphold the First Amendment.” The executive order comes after Trump’s declaration of intent at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), when the president invited Hayden Williams, a conservative who was punched in the face at the University of California-Berkeley earlier this year, up on stage.

[RELATED: Trump: Hayden Williams ‘took a hard punch in the face for all of us’ (VIDEO)]

Williams, who is an employee of Campus Reform’s parent organization, the Leadership Institute, joined Trump at the White House during the signing Thursday, along with several other conservatives and students who have experienced violations of constitutional rights on college campuses across the country.

During his remarks, Trump noted that if “a college or university does not allow you to speak, we will not give them money.” His message was clear: protect students’ rights “or risk losing billions and billions of federal tax-payer dollars.”

“The Trump Administration believes that schools should promote free speech and be transparent about their speech policies,” according to a senior administration official.

[RELATED: At UF, squelching conservative speech is routine (OPINION)]

The Trump administration also encouraged “agencies to use their authorities over Federal grant programs to promote free and open debate on campus” and added that the order is “intended to promote free inquiry and open debate on college and university campuses; to provide students the data they need to select schools that work for them; and to give the public better information to hold schools accountable for student outcomes.” 

The order also addresses student finance, responsible borrowing, and financial risk sharing.

Along with protecting students’ right to free speech, the order will enable the Department of Education to “make improvements to its mobile application so borrowers are better informed about loan balances, payments, and repayment options” by building upon the information listed on the College Scorecard “including program level earnings, debt, and loan default and repayment rates” in an effort to “improve borrowing behavior.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented three students who appeared at the White House alongside Trump on Thursday, praised the move in a statement: “The administration is right to recognize the threats to freedom of speech on public university campuses and the need to do something about preserving the marketplace of ideas...We appreciate the administration’s understanding of this problem as well as actions it has taken to help...Today’s university students will be tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders. That’s why it’s so important that public colleges and universities exemplify the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students.”

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