Free speech on campus

Jul 08, 2017

BY: CCNH-LFDA Highlights

Public colleges and universities in New Hampshire are currently allowed to set their own policies about when and how campus outdoor spaces can be used by students who want to demonstrate, distribute flyers, or hold signs.

On University of New Hampshire’s Durham campus, for example, students must get permission from the campus police before holding an assembly on campus. At Keene State, student protests or demonstrations are only allowed in specified areas and have to be scheduled in advance.

Recent related bills

There have been two recent attempts to put policy-making on free speech and assembly on campus in the hands of the New Hampshire Legislature.

HB 1561, a bill submitted in 2016 by Rep. Frank Edelblut, would have designated outdoor spaces on all University System of New Hampshire and community college campuses “public forums”. Administrators would only be allowed to restrict when and how students demonstrate using “clear, published, content and viewpoint-neutral criteria”.

The bill also would have prohibited public colleges and universities from banning spontaneous demonstrations and protests. It was killed, as was a 2017 version, HB 477, that dropped the clause about unplanned assemblies of students.

What supporters say

“The 1st Amendment should not only be alive and well, but thriving on the campuses of our public colleges and universities. The news from around the country this fall … was filled with stories from college campuses in which students and faculty alike were under pressure from a politically correct system that had finally reached a tipping point,” Edelblut said of his original legislation in an op-ed.

“The broader principle is if I am a student at a public university or college, I shouldn’t have to ask people for permission to hand out a flyer,” said Rep. Eric Schleien, sponsor of HB 477.

Arguments against

However, opponents argued the bills simply weren’t necessary in New Hampshire, pointing to the lack of documented instances of students’ free speech rights being denied on Granite State campuses. They argue that asking students to get a permit is reasonable, because it gives administrators the opportunity to work with students to ensure that their free speech activities don’t interfere with other students’ learning, and to provide any necessary precautions for safety and security of both demonstrators and those passing by.

Others cited UNH officials who stated they had never heard of a student being turned down after requesting a permit to demonstrate. They argued the net effect of the move would not be to increase free speech, but to make it more difficult and expensive to ensure proper safety and security.

What do you think?

Do you think students should be allowed to protest on campus without a permit? Why or why not? Leave a comment and have your say.

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