SD rep wants colleges to come clean about campus free speech

HB 1073, introduced Friday, would not only prevent administrators from restricting lawful expression, but would also require schools to submit an annual public report on their efforts to protect and promote free expression.

South Dakota has become the latest state to consider legislation designed to guarantee freedom of speech on public college and university campuses.

A South Dakota state representative introduced a new bill Friday that would forbid public universities from restricting any lawful form of expression on campus.

HB 1073, introduced by Republican State Representative Michael Clark, aims to ensure “a free exchange of ideas” on South Dakota's campuses by forbidding “free speech zones” and declaring that any outdoor area of a public college or university campus is a “public forum.”

The bill provides for administrators to “maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions narrowly tailored in service of a significant institutional interest,” but “only if those restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.”

Moreover, even if a university were to impose such restrictions on a particular event, the bill would require that it still ensure that members of the campus community can “spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature.”

[RELATED: Harassment of conservative student prompts free speech bill]

The bill also seeks to prevent the use of a “heckler’s veto” to interfere with the legitimate of free speech on campus, stating that counter-protests are allowed as long as they do not “materially and substantially prohibit the free expression rights of others on campus, or disrupt the functioning of the institution of higher education.”

To ensure that they are complying with both the letter and the spirit of the law, colleges and universities would be required to produce an annual report for lawmakers and make it publicly accessible on their websites.

The report would need to include “a description of any barriers to or incidents of disruption of free expression occurring on campus,” a summary of what the school is doing “to promote and ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas,” as well as any other relevant information, such as lawsuits filed against a school for violating anyone’s free speech rights.

[RELATED: MAP: Growing number of states consider free-speech bills]

Clark told Campus Reform that he introduced the bill because believes college campuses should be places where free expression is actively encouraged.

“College campuses should promote free speech, freedom of the press, free assembly, and open dialogue and debate,” Clark said, noting that “recently violence and the threats of violence have been used to shut down otherwise peaceful events.”

Yet while he considers HB 1073 a good “first step,” Clark acknowledged that actually holding college and university administrators accountable will require consistent public and legislative attention.

“What will hold the institutions accountable will be to have this report made public and scrutinized by the legislature, in public,” he predicted. “Students need to be able to question assumptions and debate ideas. There are many concerns with how politically one-sided campuses have become; we simply are asking colleges to report on what they are doing to promote intellectual diversity on campus and create a marketplace of ideas, which is what we all should be striving for.”

The bill has already found support at the University of South Dakota (USD) campus. 

"We think that eliminating free speech zones across South Dakota campuses is a great idea," USD College Republicans President Jordan Anne Hanson told Campus Reform. "Since these are public universities, free speech should be protected everywhere on campus rather than confined to a certain space. The best way to deal with speech issues is more speech rather than limiting discussion."

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10

This article has been updated with a comment from USD College Republicans President Jordan Hanson.