Recent concerns regarding institutions of higher education nationwide on the issue of free speech were introduced in a bill during the 2017 Virginia General Assembly. House Bill 1401, which states that no public institution of higher education can abridge the constitutional freedom of any individual unless otherwise permitted by the First Amendment of the Constitution, passed the General Assembly of Virginia. The bill has yet to be signed by the governor.
Although this bill appears to restate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, it reinforces the purpose of the First Amendment while also including detail that expands to speakers who are invited to public higher educational institutions in the state.
It implies that no speaker should be disinvited or prohibited from speaking on a college campus if invited, and no individual affiliated with the institution may abridge their freedom, or the freedom of other students, faculty or employees interested in attending an event by a speaker.
Further consideration of this proposal transpired after violent protests that took place at the University of Berkeley in February in response to the College Republicans inviting Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus. Yiannopoulos’ event was ultimately canceled due to the behavior of the event’s objectors.
HB 1401 is a message to campuses in the state of Virginia — as well as others across the nation — that hindering the ability of student groups to invite or allow a speaker to campus is unconstitutional. A majority of these speakers are being rejected on the basis of their lack of liberal idealistic values.
Conservative public figures whose ideas are seen as dangerous for the society by leftists are targeted to be ceased from sharing their opinions of government or other values that shape their view of culture. Their visions are not tolerated, because they do not align with the liberal ideals that have transformed in our contemporary culture.
No public institution of higher education in the state of Virginia has seen eruptions such as the incident at the University of California Berkeley. However, if this bill is approved by McAuliffe in the following days, it could prevent any such challenges from occurring on public campuses in the future.
Perhaps there are larger concerns about this issue than simply amending the state constitution to influence policy at public institutions of higher education. The proposal of this bill poses the question: why should we have to propose such a bill? If it is already stated in the U.S. Constitution, why are we facing another approval to remind certain individuals that abridging one’s freedom to speak is unconstitutional?
The evidence that destructive and intolerant behaviors depicted by opponents of particular public figures has influenced legislators to propose a practically identical bill that reinstates the freedom to speak is alarming. The perceptions that these individuals have of the First Amendment seem to be almost withdrawn from its intrinsic definition.
More than any other institutions, college campuses are establishments where the exchange of knowledge and various opposing viewpoints help us thrive in our understandings of the world. If intolerance and the shunning of specific ideologies or viewpoints — political or not — on college campuses continues to take place, then the renowned knowledge that we are supposed to be gaining from a higher education to develop diverse conceptions about our world will be useless.
There is a vast difference between protests and riots when challenging one’s personal beliefs to another’s. If one opposes a public figure’s opinions compared to their own, or disagrees with the content that they will be speaking on, then don’t attend the event. We have the freedom to make the decision if we are going to attend a public event or not, as much as they have the freedom to express their knowledge to the public if they are invited.
Protesting is an acceptable and reasonable ability to allow one’s voice to be heard as way of participation for expressing concern, but rioting and infringing on another’s constitutional right is preposterous. Barring an invited guest from their own rights on the basis of dissimilar ideologies is abominable.
Although this bill is simply a reinstatement of the Constitution’s First Amendment, we should be supportive of any proposal or decision made that attempts defend the instilled rights we have listed in the Constitution of the United States. These amendments and rights were created to protect our rights as humans living in a society. If we violate those rights, then we are violating the capacity we have to be able to grow as individuals that contribute to the strength of the society we live in.