WASHINGTON — The Virginia Senate has passed a bill that supporters say promotes campus free speech. But some lawmakers wonder why the law is needed when the U.S. Constitution already provides the First Amendment guarantee.
By a 36—4 vote, the Senate has followed the lead of the House of Delegates and passed the bill which reads, “Except as otherwise permitted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, no public institution of higher education shall abridge the freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests, to speak on campus.”
“I wish this wasn’t necessary,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Republican representing Virginia’s 26th District, the chairman of the Courts of Justice Committee.
“We’ve got examples that abound across the country of colleges and universities that have been unilaterally making decisions as to what’s appropriate political speech on campus,” he said.
During the brief debate in the Senate chamber, no one could offer an example of any such conflict pitting free speech against political correctness occurring on any Virginia campus, leading some members to wonder whether the bill was needed.
“It seems to me that it’s akin to saying the sky is blue except on cloudy days, even on college campuses, but I’m not sure why we need to put that language in the Code of Virginia,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 25th District.
But Senate supporters of the measure insisted that the bill was necessary to encourage healthy debate on the commonwealth’s campuses.
“Free speech is uncomfortable at times, and it has to be a two-way street in order for it to be able to work,” Obenshain said.