By Sen. Patrick Colbeck
7th Senate District
How many of you have read “1984” by George Orwell? If you haven’t, I strongly recommend you do. The first time I read this masterpiece was only a few months ago. I was riveted. In fact, I would submit that it was one of the best works of fiction I have ever read.
Sadly, this work of fiction has gradually become a work of non-fiction in our society.
Increasingly, instead of actual sources of truth that can only be found through free discourse that allows multiple world views, our college campuses are becoming more and more like the Ministry of Truth found in the book “1984.” As a result, what the book refers to as “Newspeak” is becoming the language not only of our universities but our communities at large. We need to reverse this trend and restore an appreciation for our First Amendment freedom of speech.
The concept of free speech under the First Amendment is one of our core values as Americans. The right to free speech at our schools is a particularly important piece of the fabric of our country. It is at this time that many of our younger citizens first start to realize the true importance of both their individual voice and the ability to learn from the differences of others.
In the interest of preserving our core value of the freedom of speech, I have introduced Senate Bills 349 and 350 to protect freedom of speech at our colleges and universities.
The legislation calls for the adoption of university and college policies that prioritize both the dissemination of knowledge and the importance of peaceful free expression. While illegal speech such as defamation, sexual harassment, and true threats of violence would still not be allowed, clear policies would also need to be put in place to ensure free intellectual debate, the ability to voice divergent opinions and the right to peaceful spontaneous assembly.
The legislation requires policies that ensure campuses do not bar or ban any speaker whom students, student groups, or faculty members have invited and who can otherwise legally be allowed on campus. All public areas on the campuses would also be considered as areas for potential public forums that would be equally open on the same terms to any speaker.
Constitutional experts agree that the litmus test for when free speech should be barred has little to do with whether others believe it is objectionable. In fact, that is why we need the First Amendment. We do not need a First Amendment to protect against speech that we like.
Groupthink is the last thing we want to see on our campuses. Our colleges and universities need to be areas where intellectual freedom is pervasive, and not limited by campus policies that effectively dictate which views or values are better than others. If campus leaders believe some speech creates a safety concern because of unruly audience members wishing to use violence, they must police those who would break the law in order to stifle free speech, and not punish speakers by taking away their voice. Intellectual freedom on our campuses must not be bullied into silence.
Sen. Patrick Colbeck represents the 7th Senate District, which encompasses the cities of Livonia, Northville, Plymouth and Wayne, as well as the townships of Canton, Northville and Plymouth.