Senate holds hearing on free speech on college campuses

WASHINGTON (NEWS10) – The First Amendment protects free speech even when groups of people may find a message offensive.

Protests seeking to shut down controversial speakers turned violent on several college campuses. Now universities are being forced to spend big bucks to secure certain events.

“How can we secure this constitutional right while also making sure universities where everyone can feel safe?” Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said.

The Senate Education Committee heard from university officials and other experts about free speech on campus.

“Political life and discourse in the united states is at a boiling point and nowhere is the reaction to that more heightened than on college campuses,” Richard Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said.

During the hearing, Democrats blamed President Trump for fueling discord.

“Today in America we have a president to every day, day after day attacks the free press in America,” Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said.

Republican Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) accused college campuses of being intolerant to certain ideas.

“It’s usually voices of conservative speakers and professors that are being squelched,” Sen. Alexander said.

In the wake of the controversy, some propose Congress enact a mandate to guarantee free speech.

Others favor new laws to block speech that could incite violence.

Alexander cautioned against a top-down approach saying Congress pushing policy on 6,000 colleges and universities across the country is a mistake.

Experts testified that extremist groups are targeting campuses for recruitment and to sow discord at what are perceived to be liberal and diverse institutions.

Administrators say the right to free speech must be upheld but more can be done to clarify the universities’ views on issues like race.

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