I have sponsored LD 665, “An Act to Enact the Campus Free Expression Act” this session to codify into state law protections of our natural right to free speech for all current and future students on public college and university campuses in Maine.
Natural rights are those most basic rights which are innate to humankind and do not need government to exist. Man created government to secure and protect these rights. They are the foundation of our civilization and representative democracy. As Thomas Paine explained in “The Rights of Man”,
“Man did not enter into society to become worse than he was before, nor to have fewer rights than he had before, but to have those rights better secured.”
The cornerstone for securing natural rights into law was laid in 1215 A.D. with the signing of the Magna Carta that put forward the revolutionary idea that government only exists at the consent of the governed, and that governments are bound by law and cannot infringe upon the rights of man without due process. Our own Constitution and First Amendment is an evolution in securing and protecting our natural rights by restricting our own government from certain actions against the citizenry. The First Amendment states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Governmental abridgment of the freedom of speech and of the right of the people to peaceably assemble is what motivated me to sponsor this bill. LD 665 is important because censorship often leads to limited exposure of ideas with which one may disagree with or find offensive. This only exposes impressionable minds to one side of a coin. All people, but in particular young people, need to be exposed to all viewpoints and ideas; even the truly rotten and objectionable ones.
This is the only way that the brain can learn to delineate between which ideas are vile and not worthwhile, and to learn which ideas are worthy to build upon and explore further. In the free market of ideas, if you express hatred and bigotry, people will see you for the fool that you are. That is the beauty of free speech; it exposes truth. You will never know evil if you are never exposed to it.
Our students need to be exposed to the good, the bad and the ugly of life, and that is why this bill is so important. It is vital for our young people to be exposed to all opinions as they shape their worldviews on Maine’s public campuses.
The nuts and bolts of my bill state that the expressive activities protected under its provisions include all forms of peaceful assembly, protests, speeches, distribution of literature, carrying signs, circulating petitions, and the recording and publication of video and audio lawfully recorded in public outdoor areas. These activities may occur on all publicly accessible outdoor areas of public college campuses in Maine.
The bill includes reasonable measures to ensure accountability and public safety while respecting rights on campus. The public colleges and universities may still maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and other restrictions. However, these restrictions must be clear, published, content- and viewpoint-neutral and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any such restrictions must allow for members of the university community to spontaneously and contemporaneously distribute literature and freely assemble.
It was John Adams who said, “We are a government of laws, not men.” I tend to agree with him on many things, and this is one of them. Protecting free speech on college campuses is not a left vs. right issue. Administrations and policies change, but our natural rights never do. That is why the Campus Free Expression Act is so important and should be passed this session.