AUGUSTA – A bill sponsored by Rep. John Andrews (R – Paris) that would protect free speech on Maine public university and college campuses called the “Campus Free Expression Act” is expected to be voted on by the Maine Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee this week.
The bill aims to protect free speech by prohibiting any public institution of higher education in Maine from restricting any “expressive activity”, which basically means any expression of free speech on a college campus as long as that activity is lawful and does not disrupt the functioning of the institution.
Rep. Andrews testified to the committee that it is important that
young people be exposed to a wide range of ideas, and that “In the free
market of ideas
express hatred and
bigotry people will
see you for
the fool that
you are. That
beauty of true
free speech, it
In his testimony, Rep. Andrews referred to some universities not truly protecting free speech on campus, but said that the University of Maine System’s Director of Government and Community Relations had reached out to him to let him know that his proposal was consistent with the system’s current free speech policy.
Testifying in favor of the bill along with Rep. Andrews were the
Maine Heritage Policy Center, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
and a number of University of Maine students, along with others.
Across the nation, institutions of higher education have grappled with free speech issues as political polarization has increased. Often controlled by politically motivated professors and administrators, some universities have shut down groups and speakers with opposing viewpoints.
Free speech has also been restricted through policies restricting free speech to very limited “free speech zones” in areas provided on campus, essentially isolating free speech to small, sometimes out of the way, areas.
Rep. Andrews’ bill says that any outdoor area on a campus must be a free speech zone as long as the speech does not disrupt the functioning of higher education on the campus.
Tyler Coward, legislative council for the Foundation for
Individual Rights in Education, testified that about 1 in 10 of the four year
institutions of higher education across the country maintain the so-called free
speech zones that “limit rallies, demonstrations, distribution of
literature, petition circulation,
and speeches to
small and/or out-of-the-way
areas of campus.”
Coward said that FIRE (the acronym for his group) opposes such restrictions
that “quarantine free speech” and that they are generally inconsistent with the
Testifying for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Adam Crepeau, a
policy analyst for the group, said that they support the proposal because it would
“ensure students and speakers are not censored.”
“There have been enough
cases around the
nation to illustrate
that this legislation
to keep public
universities in line
with the First
Amendment of the
United States Constitution,”
said Mr. Crepeau.
The ACLU of Maine, despite their national organization being quoted in other testimony to generally support the proposals laid out by Rep. Andrews in his bill, testified against the bill. Meagan Sway, policy council for the ACLU of Maine, said that their opposition was based on several parts of the language they see as problematic, but that they would withdraw their opposition if those parts of the proposal were amended.