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Category Archives: First Amendment

Trump’s Unprecedented War on the First Amendment Has Gone … – Huffington Post

Posted: February 26, 2017 at 10:54 pm

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Donald Trumps attacks on our nations news media and his attempts to position his Twitter account as the only official news outlet of the administrationeffectively a state-run media outlet built upon a social media platform. Unfortunately, since I wrote that piece, Trump and his entire administration have effectively tripled-down on their war against the American news media and have taken unprecedented actions to counter it.

If youve had a chance to watch any of Sean Spicers White House press briefings over the last month (I usually see them on CBSN), you have probably seen at least a couple of instances of Spicer directly arguing with and attacking individual reporters, much the way that Trump did with Katy Tur during the campaign. Spicer has already shown himself to be combative with the news media, and Trump himself continues to decry established media outlets, such as CNN and The New York Times as fake news and now, very fake news (emphasis mine).

This, of course, is just a small sampling of his tweets directed at delegitimizing the entire media apparatus of this nation. But that last one may be the most alarming: Trump has officially declared the news media the enemy of the American People. Let that one sink in just for a minute.

The American news media is effectively our liaison into the workings of our state and federal governments. Whenever reporters include quotes in newspaper or on-line reports, or sit down with officials in one-on-one interviews, they are giving the American people a brief glimpse into that representatives policy positions, personality, and method of governing. Reporters can communicate with inside sourcesoften anonymously for fear of reprisalsand find out more of what is going on behind the scenes, which is often how questionable policies and even outright corruption are revealed to the populace. The media also brings crucial information, such as product recalls, threats to public safety, and foreign policy, to the attention of the populace. Their ability to communicate effectively has only grown in the technological age, with social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook serving to provide additional ways for people to receive their news and stay informed.

It is perhaps this latter outlet which Trump is trying to monopolize and control. By labeling many media organizations as fake news through his Twitter account, Trump seeks not only to control his own narrative, but also the medias ability to effectively communicate with the American people. Every time Trump mentions a specific organization or reporter in a speech or in a tweet, he is singling that person or entity out for public ridicule, knowing that if they have a public Twitter account (the vast majority do), his supporters and followers will assail them with harassment. This is a way to not only undermine their credibility with the nation, but also an attempt to silence them completely. Individual journalists especially may feel pressured to disconnect from social media due to constant harassment and threats made against them. Donald Trump is both enabling and encouraging such behavior.

So maybe it should come as no surprise that, just a few days ago, the Trump Administration literally blocked a number of news media outlets from participating in a press briefing. Reporters from CNN, The New York Times, Politico, and The Los Angeles Times were all barred from entry. In fact, according to the report, Sean Spicer was literally hand-picking the news outlets he wanted in attendancea form of journalistic discrimination. This is potentially the beginning of a total media blackout of journalistic outlets the administration seeks to impugn. If Trump and his team can ultimately position the American news media as something to be shunned and discredited, his supportersand potentially a large chunk of the American populacewill be less likely to trust their reporting as the full gamut of their offenses comes to light. This in itself will make it much harder to eliminate the threats his administrations policies present to America.

The administration has also taken the media to task as of late for its very use of anonymous sources. On CBS Face the Nation recently, Reince Priebus declared:

This is disingenuous at best, given the administrations use of its own anonymous sources in an attempt to confuse the public. Furthermore, there is little question that, for certain types of stories, anonymity is the only way to get the story out there. Sources may be, depending on the story, risking their careers and potentially even their lives by simply speaking to a reporter. Outing the identities of these sources simply puts a target on their backswhich, given how vindictive this entire presidency has become, may be exactly what Trump and Priebus are hoping for, to squelch as much public criticism as possible.

And then earlier tonight, this story popped up on my Twitter feed. Sebastian Gorka, an Islamophobe who was also hired by Steve Bannon to serve as a terrorism advisor to Trump, personally phoned one of his critics with threats of a lawsuit for tweeting his criticism of Gorka. Michael S. Smith II, a regular contributor to discussions on terrorism and how groups like ISIS are using social media to leverage support, has tweeted criticisms of both Trumps and Gorkas handling of radical Islam. Gorka apparently expressed hurt feelings at being criticized by someone hes never met and threatened the lawsuit at the beginning of the conversation:

Which begs the question: Is the Trump Administration now seeking to pursue lawsuits against individual Twitter users who denounce and criticize their policies on the platform? If Gorka does indeed press for charges against Smith, it would certainly set that precedent. It would also send a clear and direct message to every citizen in the United States: Donald Trump is not to be questioned. In fact, Stephen Miller, Trumps senior advisor, recently said in so many words:

This should make every American tremble in fear. Welcome to the new reality under Donald Trump.

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Trump’s Unprecedented War on the First Amendment Has Gone … – Huffington Post

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Trump: Fake love for First Amendment – Orlando Sentinel

Posted: at 10:54 pm

UPDATED: President Trump understands press freedom about as well as he grasps humility.

In other words, not at all.

But that doesnt stop him from sounding off. His rip-roaring speech Friday to the Conservative Political Action Conference contained an unnerving threat and ironic demands.

Trump renewed his complaints about the media or as he calls it the fake media.

I say it doesnt represent the people, it doesnt and never will represent the people, and were going to do something about it because we have to go out and have to speak our minds and we have to be honest, Trump said.

That going to do something sounded ominous, yet if he just keeps talking, he is going to continue to do wonderful things for TVratings and newspaper subscriptions. Thank you, Mr. President.

Trump gave a journalism lecture: I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources.They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there.

That will never work, but the president happily spins the fantasy.

Unnamed sources drive a lot of coverage, inside and outside Washington. Trump made the complaintshortly afterhis own White House aides gave a briefing on the condition of anonymity.

Ah, hypocrisy. It never registers with the president, who just keeps complaining.

If unnamed sources arent used, Trump predicted, you will see stories dry up like you’ve never seen before.

He followed that by announcing: I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me. Nobody. I mean, who uses itmore than I do?

But theres a difference between reportingand shooting your mouth off.

If you want to see stories dry up, you cant really love the First Amendment. Dogged reporting can get at major issues facing the country. Perhaps Trump loves parts of the First Amendment, but the love in this case needs to be all the way.

President Trump has a tendency to make everything personal. He comes at the issues not as a politician but as a TV star who was treated to largely favorable press when he was a performeron The Apprentice.

He made that approach pay offfor him during the unpredictable 2016 campaign, but he cant seem to shift gears as president.

Thin-skinned and self-absorbed, he is not prepared for the rough-and-tumble of Washington.

And were all paying for it because hes easily distracted and offended. He says his achievements arent saluted, but he and his White House keep tripping themselves up.

Maybe he was serving distractions Friday from CNN and New York Times reporting about contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials. He finds ways to divert attention frombad press.

He can bean aggrieved star, and his White House can take revenge on reporters he doesnt like. Reporters from CNN, The New York Times, Politico, the BBC, the Huffington Post and The Los Angeles Times were kept out of a White House briefing on Friday.

Even so, the administration is probably helping those news organizations gainrespect. The digging about Russia wont end; Trump gives the press more reason to keep looking. Thank you, Mr. President.

The president has announced he wont attend the White House correspondents dinner in April. Thats for the best. Why try to fake that youre having a good time in front of the fake media?

For now, Trump is sending more than enough head-scratching messages. His media bashing on Friday was especially confused. But thats because when Trump talks about the First Amendment, hes just giving lip service.

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Margaret Sullivan receives First Amendment Award – The Boston … – The Boston Globe

Posted: February 25, 2017 at 2:56 pm

From left: Tom Fiedler, Donna Green, Margaret Sullivan, Judith Meyer, and Michael Donoghue at the New England First Amendment Coalitions annual awards luncheon on Friday.

The New England First Amendment Coalition presented its top honor to Margaret Sullivan, the media columnist for The Washington Post.

Sullivan accepted the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award on Friday before a large crowd of journalists, lawyers, educators, students, and media executives at NEFACs annual awards luncheon at the Marriott Long Wharf.


The award is named after the late publisher of the Providence Journal who passed away in 2005, and past recipients have included US Senator Patrick Leahy; former federal judge Nancy Gertner; former Globe editor Marty Baron; James Risen and Anthony Lewis of The New York Times; and GlobalPost founder Philip Balboni.

The New England First Amendment Coalition also presented Judith Meyer, executive editor of the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, with the Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award, and Donna Green of New Hampshire received the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award.

Among those in attendance at the luncheon were Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition; Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University; Michael Rezendes, Larry Edelman, Emily Procknal, Jasmine Wu, Nick Osborne, and Linda Pizzuti Henry of the Globe; Mike Beaudet of WCVB-TV; Tom Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University; and WBZ political analyst Jon Keller, who served as emcee.

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Margaret Sullivan receives First Amendment Award – The Boston … – The Boston Globe

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White House Media Access By President: Is First Amendment …

Posted: at 2:56 pm

The White House prevented certain media outlets from participating in the daily press briefing, Friday, but President Donald Trump’s administration was not alone when being accused of limiting the press’ access in similar circumstances.

A handful of so-called left-leaning news outlets, including BBC, CNN, the Hill, The New York Times, Politico and RealClearPolitics, were told they could not enter the White House press briefing room Friday afternoon to listen to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer deliver his daily media address, the New York Daily News reported. The move prompted outrage from proponents of the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.

Spicer previously told Politico, one of the outlets barred from Friday’s briefing, that he would never ban specific new organizations.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who served under President George W. Bush, said the decision by the White House Friday was perfectly in line with protocol.

Fleischer may just be right, as the move has historical precedence, especially as it relates to presidents themselves holding press briefings.

Former President Barack Obama was generous with his time in terms of allowing reporters to interview him individually, but his Q&A sessions were far fewer compared to Bush. Obama held just 107 of them during his first term, compared to 355 for Bush, according to Vanity Fair.

But that may be beside the point.

Trump has long called the media “crooked” and “dishonest,” among other negative adjectives, and the president echoed that sentiment Friday during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. The day after Trump won the White House in November, he was accused of preventing the press from traveling with him for a White House meeting. In other words, Friday’s actions by the White House fell right in line with Trump’s views of the press.

But that was apparently no solace for some members of the media and White House reporters who missed out on Spicer’s daily press briefing.

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White House Media Access By President: Is First Amendment …

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Trump Praises First Amendment, Calls for Media Suppression – New York Magazine

Posted: at 2:56 pm

A man who loves free speech more than you do. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, president Trump said that the media shouldnt be allowed to cite anonymous sources because Americas most respected newspapers routinely make up such sources, and publish stories of their own invention. He reiterated his contention that fake news outlets like the New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS, and CNN are the enemy of the people, and suggested that Americans should not protest their government in between elections.

The president also said, I love the First Amendment nobody loves it more than me.

Trump and his administration have been waging a war on objective reality and those tasked with describing it from the moment he was sworn in. In his first appearance as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer demanded that reporters believe the presidents estimate of the size of his inaugural crowd over their own lying eyes. As Trumps tumultuous (and not terribly productive) first month in office progressed, he grew ever more preoccupied with discrediting the Fourth Estate.

On Thursday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus instructed the audience not to believe any negative news they read about the administration, over and over again. By the end of their conversation, the word media had been spoken 19 times, and the phrase opposition party, Bannons favorite synonym for the mainstream press, six times.

It wasnt terribly surprising, then, that the president opened his remarks to CPAC with a long diatribe against the media. But Trumps speech did represent a significant escalation in his crusade against independent journalism.

Previously, the president had criticized the press for printing illegal leaks from anonymous government officials and suggested that those officials have often shared false information. But hed never before claimed that major newspapers were fabricating sources out of whole cloth and presenting works of fictions as reportage.

The leaks are real. Youre the one that wrote about them and reported them, I mean, the leaks are real, Trump told reporters at a press conference last Thursday. You know what they said, you saw it and the leaks are absolutely real.

As of Friday morning, the president still maintained that the anonymous officials quoted in the media were genuine members of the government.

But hours later Trump suggested that reporters cant find actual government officials to leak to them, and thus are forced to invent them.

A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people, Trump said. Because they have no sources, they just make em up when there are none Im against the people that make up stories and make up sources.

The people that make up stories ostensibly includes all of the major outlets listed in this recent tweet.

Late Thursday night, the Trump administration admitted that it had encouraged the FBI to anonymously leak exculpating information about the presidents relationship with Russia. On Friday morning, Trump declared, They shouldnt be allowed to use sources unless they use somebodys name They should put the name of the person. You will see stories dry up like youve never seen before.

Then, after briefly praising the First Amendment, the president said that media doesnt represent the people, and were going to do something about it.

Trumps only substantive argument for why his audience shouldnt trust the media was that most of these outlets pre-election polling suggested that he would not win. He then credited the Los Angeles Times poll for its singular accuracy. That poll predicted that Trump would win the popular vote, making it one of the least accurate national polls of the 2016 cycle.

But in the presidents telling, fake news outlets and skewed pollsters arent the only ones who have been abusing their First Amendment rights the other enemies of the American people are the American people who didnt vote for Donald Trump.

Referring to the town hall protests in support of Obamacare, Trump said, The people that youre watching, theyre not you. Theyre largely many of them are the side that lost, you know they lost the election. Its like, how many elections do we have to have?

The election is over. The worlds biggest fan of the First Amendment won. So, if you voted against him, its time to shut up.

This Obscure News Story, Which Should Be Huge, Shows How Trump Gets Away With Corruption

Connie Britton Leaves Nashville Fans With the Cold Comfort of a Heartfelt Coda After That Momentous Episode

Trumps Counterterrorism Adviser Sebastian Gorka Has Links to Anti-Semitic Groups

The boxing legends family is considering a lawsuit over the incident.

The California Republican thinks Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself.

As conservatism faces an existential crisis, a tour through CPACs after parties proves educational.

A small dip from 2015, but the third-straight yearly decline under Vision Zero.

Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear is an out-of-work centrist representing a party thats energized on the left.

A leaked document shows House Republicans mulling controversial ideas like ending Medicaid as we know it and a new tax on employer-provided insurance.

It says citizenship in the Muslim-majority countries included in the ban is an unlikely indicator of a terrorism threat.

Dont feel bad for Paul Ryan, hell end up getting a big tax cut for the rich in the end.

Its been a hot month, with nearly 4,500 record highs set, compared to 29 record lows.

The White House denied any links to President Trumps rhetoric.

Earlier in the day, Trump explained that the media isnt the enemy of the people but the fake news media is.

Kevin Hassett once co-authored a book imploring investors to enter the stock market just before the dot-com bubble burst.

Is the mainstream right ready to replace its traditional values with pure nationalism?

It looked like Attorney General Jeff Sessionss warm-up act in loosening protections for all minorities.

The president told CPAC the media shouldnt be allowed to cite anonymous sources, and suggested people shouldnt protest after an election.

We will not answer to donors, lobbyists, or special interests now heres another story about me answering to special interests.

This may be the lowlight of a week that also saw him make an unhinged phone call to a critic that got recorded and published.

This isnt the first time the president has appeared to advocate for nuclear proliferation.

The White House asked the FBI to leak exculpating details about Trumps ties with Russia. It leaked the details of that conversation instead.

The Republican Partys best chance to repeal Obamacare is already gone.

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Trump Praises First Amendment, Calls for Media Suppression – New York Magazine

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First Amendment Victory In Portland: Judge Tosses First Subpoena Of Reporter By Trump Administration –

Posted: at 2:56 pm
First Amendment Victory In Portland: Judge Tosses First Subpoena Of Reporter By Trump Administration
In a significant victory for the First Amendment, a federal judge in Portland told prosecutors that they could not force a reporter to testify in an ongoing criminal trial. The subpoena had been the first issued to a reporter by the Trump Justice

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Crowd attends event celebrating the First Amendment – Southwest Virginia Today

Posted: at 2:56 pm

Organizers of a Celebration of the First Amendment Saturday afternoon at Floyds Eco-System had to set up extra chairs for the additional attendees who heard speeches, panel discussions, songs and poems about the Constitutional amendment that protects freedom of speech, the press and other such freedoms.

Designed to speak out against what many see as assaults on such freedoms, the crowd applauded and cheered when speakers discussed the right to protest against the government and freely express opinions. Floyd Countys Commonwealths Attorney Eric Branscom kicked off the speeches with a history lesson that talked about a President who wanted to suppress freedom of speech and the press and jail those who did not agree and was backed by the political party that controlled Congress.

Turned out he was talking about President John Adams in 1794 and control of the Federalist Party over Congress then. Branscom said it took Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who followed Adams, to implement a version of states rights and pardons to get those who disagreed with Adams out of jail and protest the then-new First Amendment.

Even so, Branscom said, it would take 165 years before the U.S. Supreme Court would fully overturn the legal challenges from the 1700s in the Times v. Sullivan case that reaffirmed freedom of the press and the other freedoms of the amendment.

Radford University media professor, author and former newspaperman Bill Kovarik introduced himself to the audience as an enemy of the people, citing a term used by current President Donald Trump, and then brought applause and cheers in a speech where he called for strong opposition and protest against the head of state.

We are friends of the people, Kovarik said, adding that the media must questions those elected to office locally, statewide and nationally.

I work in the tradition of Ben Franklin, Joseph Pulitzer, Ernie Pyle and Woodward and Bernstein, Kovarok said.

The press is not perfect, he said. Were watchdogs.

He said that being called an enemy of the people is dangerous speech.

The press is the Constitutions best friend, he added.

A panel on free speech included Branscom, Floyd County Sheriff Brian Craig, activist Tree Gigante and attorney and columnist Alan Graf, who answered questions from the floor and talked about protest.

Craig praised organizers of events like the Womens March in January for working with his department.

We know the people involved in these events, and we work with them, he said.

Graf said that he, as an attorney, has represented people charged with crimes because they protested legally.

When I came to Floyd, I told the sheriff that I also had sued the police over handling of protests, he said.

As a living, Craig answered with a laugh.

Gigante said protests in many cases are not only a right but should also be considered a duty.

Sometimes, she added, it may be necessary to violate the law to carry out that right.

Brancom said law enforcement must establish where the line is drawn between peaceful and violent protest.

What are the boundaries? Sometimes the limits must be it comes back to pushing against the government, he said.

A panel on freedom of religion consisted of Graf, who told the audience Im Jewish and I come from a holocaust family, Imam Abdullah Ferrom of Roanoke Mosque and Quaker Kim ODonnell.

ODonnell said her religion considers relationship with God a deeply personal thing. Our right to practice is a something we strive to protest.

Ferrom said Muslims work to peacefully co-exist with other religions but face a lot of distrust from others who cite their religion as justification for violence against his beliefs.

He cited threats of having a Muslim registry required in America as a threat.

If there such a thing as a Muslim registry, I will register as a Muslim, Graf said, which brought applause and comments of so will I from members of the audience.

The event also awarded youth and adults for essays, poems and songs about the First Amendments and threats against the freedoms it is designed to protect.

First place winners who were present read their essays or poems to the audience and sang their songs.

Michael Kovick closed the event with his second-place winning song.

Linville M. Meadows, Second Place

Will Bason, Honorable Mention

Andrew Finn, Honorable Mention

Alex Hicks, Honorable Mention

Leah Pierce, Honorable Mention

Kaci Marshall, Honorable Mention

Greg Arens, Honorable Mention

Jillian Greenhalgh, First

Cameron Callahan, Third Place

Julian Hensley-Buzzell, Honorable Mention

Isaac Byrd, Honorable Mention

Stella Sessions, Honorable Mention

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Amazon Says First Amendment Protects Alexa Data – Entrepreneur

Posted: at 2:56 pm

Prosecutors in an Arkansas murder trial claim that anAmazon Echocould hold data crucial to the case, but Amazon says that data is protected by the First Amendment and is refusing to give it up.

The case involves a Bentonville, Ark., man accused of first-degree murder. It received national attention in December when authorities issued a warrant for data stored on the defendant’s Echo, powered by Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. In a lengthycourt filinglast week, Amazon said that Echo voice commands as well as Alexa data stored on the company’s servers cannot be subject to a search warrant, Forbesreports.

In the filing, Amazon explains that it records Echo users’ voice commands and a transcript of Alexa’s responses. “Both types of information are protected speech under the First Amendment,” Amazon’s lawyers write.

Because of that protection, the government must show a compelling need for the data. It failed to do so in this case, Amazon writes, arguing that the judge should quash the warrant. “Such government demands inevitably chill users from exercising their First Amendment rights to seek and receive information and expressive content in the privacy of their own home, conduct which lies at the core of the Constitution,” the company says.

An Amazon spokespersontold PCMag in Decemberthat it will not release customer information without a “valid and binding legal demand properly served on us.”

As Amazon wrangles with the government over Alexa in court, the voice service’s features continue to grow, withWiredreporting this week that more than 10,000 Alexa skills are now available, just a year and a half after Amazon opened the platform to third-party developers.Alexa skillsallow users to tap a variety of external services using voice commands, from controllingsmart light bulbsto accessing smartphone notifications.

Tom is PCMag’s San Francisco-based news reporter.

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Donald Trump: The First Amendment Gives Me The Right To Criticize ‘Fake News’ – Huffington Post

Posted: February 24, 2017 at 6:01 pm

President Donald Trumpcriticized the media again on Friday while speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

Trump claimed it was wrongly reported that hecalled the media the enemy of the people last week, saying hed actually called fake news the enemy. But he has branded such reputable media outlets as the The New York Times, CNN, NBC and others fake news.

The president argued that the First Amendment gives him the right to criticize fake news and criticize it strongly.

[The media] say that we cant criticize their dishonest coverage because of the First Amendment, Trump said.

I love the First Amendment. Nobody loves it better than me, he added.

Trump also said he thinks news outlets should not use anonymous sources, despite using them himself to make claims that have been proven false.

The presidents comments were likely a thinly veiled jab atCNN. The news outlet recently wrote that the FBI had rejected a White House request to dispute reports that Trumps campaign team had contacted Russian officials prior to the election.

Trumps war with the media is going to get worse, Trump adviser Steve Bannon said Thursday at CPAC.

Every day is going to be a fight, Bannon said.

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Protecting free speech: House bill would protect students’ First Amendment rights on campus – Richmond Register

Posted: at 6:01 pm

The following might be offensive to some.

But that’s okay, according to Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond. It’s free speech and protected by the First Amendment of our nation’s constitution.

A right, he said, that is being infringed upon on many of Kentucky’s college campuses.

Morgan is trying to change that with Kentucky House Bill 127, or the Campus Free Expression (CAFE) Act, which will prohibit publicly-funded universities and colleges from restricting a student’s right to free expression.

“I filed the bill because I believe in it, whole-heartedly,” Morgan said. “You need to have the freedom of speech on college campuses. Students shouldn’t be restricted to a circle 50 feet from the sidewalk.”

Morgan said many state universities have policies that restrict student’s First Amendment rights by forcing them into so-called “free speech zones.”

The representative said these zones are often small areas hidden away from public view.

The CAFE Act will prohibit schools from imposing those types of zones, and defines any “outdoor areas of an institution’s campus” as “traditional public forums.”

“Students should have the right to express themselves in an open space and have the opportunity to have people listen to what they have to say,” Morgan said. “It’s a matter of fairness. Students have a right and it should be protected. There are public institutions of higher education that are not allowing students the right to have an open dialogue. You don’t want that to continue in the state.”

Kentucky House Bill 127 states clearly colleges “shall not restrict the right to free expression.” In line with the Constitution, colleges can only place “reasonable” restrictions on the “time, place, and manner” of student expression. Even still, these restrictions must be “narrowly tailored… based on published, content-neutral, and viewpoint-neutral criteria… [and must] provide for ample alternative means of expression.”

Inspired by Morgan’s efforts to protect students’ rights, Eastern Kentucky University’s student government association (SGA) passed a bill endorsing HB 127 and encouraging other student governments across the state to do the same.

Sebastian Torres, EKU SGA executive vice president, said the bill passed unanimously and the organization has been working closely with Morgan and others to educate universities about the bill.

“It is a real issue on Kentucky campuses that needs to be addressed,” Torres said of the fight to keep free speech. “It’s not just Kentucky that has these policies that restrict students’ First Amendment rights. At a university in Indiana, a group of students were arrested for passing out copies of the Constitution. This is real and it’s happening.”

In fact, on a recent trip to Murray State University, Torres said he and other SGA members had difficulty locating the campus’ free-speech zone. After a search of the grounds, the students were directed to a small cement circle tucked away out of sight. Torres added students have to apply for a chance to speak in the zone and applications can be denied.

The EKU student said limiting an open exchange of ideas to a certain area on a college campus was “ridiculous” and goes against not only a right protected by the Constitution, but also the nature of higher education.

“Students come here to learn and grow and expand their ideas. We are trying to educate a workforce at this university and create productive citizens, but college is also a chance to have your ideas challenged and see if they stand up against facts,” Torres said. “If it doesn’t happen on a college campus, where do we expect it to happen.”

Torres said you don’t have to agree with everything said and you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. He added free speech can be uncomfortable for some, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said.

Torres said EKU’s student government felt it was especially important to support Morgan’s bill, due to the fact that EKU is the first “green light” school in the state.

The university earned that distinction from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which awards institutions of higher learning with a green, yellow or red categorization based on the constitutionality of speech policies.

In 2012, the university worked with FIRE attorneys to bring the campus into compliance with the Constitution and make the campus more First Amendment friendly.

Some of the important steps taken by the university included modifying vague wording in the student handbook and policies.

One example was the phrase in the student handbook that stated students should not “engage in a course of conduct intended to harass, seriously annoy and alarm another person.” FIRE suggested the university amend the phrase “seriously annoy,” as it goes against the First Amendment to regulate student speech in that manner.

Another part of the handbook read: “No one should either offend the wider community or infringe upon the rights and privileges of others.”

“Sometimes people might find what you say offensive,” Torres said. “However, I think what is becoming prevalent in today’s society is the idea that if they find it offensive or uncomfortable then it should be stopped. That’s infringing on free speech.

“Why should certain kind of speakers be banned from campus. That shouldn’t be allowed, especially if a student group is sponsoring that speaker. Those that don’t agree with the speaker don’t have to listen to the lecture or they can bring in their own speaker who has a different viewpoint.”

Another reason Torres said the SGA is promoting the bill is the fact that while the CAFE act protects students it also will protect universities. He said with budget crunches, it is not a good time for universities to get sued because it didn’t have the forethought to not infringe on a student’s right to free speech.

Torres said he hopes that other universities step-up and make their campus’ more First Amendment friendly, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be happening.

“I wish that universities and colleges would do it on their own, but that is why it is so important for the state house to step in and go ahead and do it for them,” he said. “Our SGA feels that this is an important issue for students and we feel compelled to let our legislators know that we are invested in our First Amendment right. I’m very proud of the SGA for endorsing this and we encourage every other student government to jump on the bandwagon.”

Both Morgan and Torres said the new bill does not do away with university protections against hate speech, harassment or incitement of violence.

The CAFE Act provides universities with the ability to enforce certain restrictions on acts of free speech in an outdoor area of campus regarding reasonable time, place and manner. The bill makes it very clear these restrictions must have a clear, defendable basis, Torres said.

Torres said in no way does the bill encourage or enable hate speech and harassment by promoting the right of free speech for students.

“You are protected from any kind of violence or mistreatment,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you are protected against different ideas, views, cultures or opinions that you might not like.”

Reach Ricki Barker at 624-6611 or follow her on Twitter @RickiBReports.

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Protecting free speech: House bill would protect students’ First Amendment rights on campus – Richmond Register

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