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Michigan Considers Free Speech Protection Bills

A protester cheers during the Trump Free Speech Rally in Portland, Oregon, U.S. June 4, 2017. REUTERS/David RyderA protester cheers during the Trump Free Speech Rally in Portland, Oregon, U.S. June 4, 2017. REUTERS/David Ryder

Michigan is considering a pair of new bills aimed at protecting free speech after protesters have disturbed, interrupted and ended multiple debates.

Grant Strobl, the national chairman for Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Michigan is leading the charge to rid the campus of unfair discrimination against speech based on certain viewpoints, Michigan Live reported Tuesday.

“The university does have the obligation to prevent students from heckling and basically taking over an event. They can protest outside or host their own event,” said Strobl.

He noted that the university’s current free speech policy isn’t bad but recommended improvements to encourage universities to adhere to their policies. He said the biggest problem is that the policies are not regularly enforced, and spoke out in support of two bills aimed at amending this weakness that will be presented to the Michigan State Senate. Bill 0349 and Bill 0350 are currently under consideration, according to a July 11 statement from Strobl.

Together called the “campus free speech act,” the bills would demand that colleges and universities allow controversial speakers and ideas to circulate, even those considered “deeply offensive.”

Freedom of speech has turned into “freedom from speech” said state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, lead sponsor and creator of the legislation. Students are “trying to shut down any discussion of issues that they don’t agree with,” he added.

The bills would apply to Michigan’s 15 public universities and 28 community colleges, and would require either a yearlong suspension or expulsion of students that repeatedly infringe on the speech rights of others. “I think most of the provisions are effective means of encouraging us to enforce free speech polices,” Strobl said.

Others, like the Michigan Association of State Universities, do not support the bills and insist the legislation is “unnecessary and duplicative.”

“This, to me, is typical of institutions cracking down against students that are advocating for themselves” said Vikrant Garg, a public health student and organizer of Students4Justice at the university. “This bill, and the people that make these decisions … operate under a framework in which they can silence us and inflict violence against us with no consequences.”

“When a lot of students think conservative mainstream ideals equal violence, it creates an atmosphere where we can’t talk to each other,” Strobl said in response. “That’s one of the things I was looking forward to in attending UM — being able to have reasonable, civil discussion.”

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