116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / News / Government & Politics
Nearly united Iowa House backs free speech bill
DES MOINES - The Iowa House voted nearly unanimously Tuesday to support legislation requiring regents universities to protect First Amendment rights, but split along party lines on another bill addressing training and teaching about 'divisive concepts” such as racism, sexism and political ideology.
There was little disagreement that free speech is important in education 'because that is when the young folks of our state are developing their own thoughts and ideas,” Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, said about House File 744.
It's not the job of educators and educational institutions 'to tell those kids what to think,” he said, but 'to give them the tools to decide what to think ... not come down on one side or the other, but to give them both sides of the argument, the ability to see all sides and decide for themselves.”
The House agreed 97-1, with Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, casting the lone 'no” vote. It's not that he doesn't support free speech for students and the employees of K-12 schools and universities, he said - but he doesn't believe the bill furthers those rights.
'In fact,” Jacoby said, 'it is code clutter that smells of Big Brother. The core question is why is it needed. In my opinion, it ain't.”
The bill is similar to Senate File 478, which was approved 33-14 earlier this year.
The language of SF 478 is nearly identical to an executive order from then-President Donald Trump that identified 'divisive concepts.”
University of Iowa dental school Dean David Johnsen touched off a controversy when he denounced Trump's order and called for a disciplinary hearing for a student who publicly supported the executive order.
After free speech incidents at Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, the Board of Regents subsequently discussed free speech issues on its campuses and said it will move ahead with creating a Free Speech Committee to guide policies and review complaints.
But there was no bipartisan support for an 'education training” bill - House File 802 - to prohibit teaching of divisive concepts, such as political ideology, one's moral character being determined by one's race or sex, that the United States and Iowa are fundamentally or systematically racist and sexist, and that meritocracy or traits such as a work ethic are racist or sexist.
Talking about divisive concepts can be a good thing, Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said, because it helps people learn other viewpoints. Some of the concepts, such as one race or sex being superior to another, are ridiculous,” she said, 'and should not be taught.”
HF 802 originally was targeted at regents universities, but amended to include all governmental agencies and political subdivisions that provide mandatory staff or student training.
The bill specifically would allow divisive topics to be a part of a larger course of academic study and allow courts to order training or remedial action on divisive concepts.
House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, called the bill an attempt by the Legislature to micromanage other governments.
'We no longer trust these jurisdictions to know what's best for them,” he said.
Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, thanked Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, for bringing the bill forward because it opened a conversation 'to challenge each of you in your comfort zone.”
'We can't educate ourselves if we stifle ourselves ... if we stifle our teachers,” he said.
Ignoring the problem won't make it go away, said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids.
'If we're not allowing our teachers to identify these topics like white supremacy, how they don't belong here in Iowa, that's a problem,” she said.
Nearly five hours after the debate began, Holt called it the best discussion he's heard in his seven years in the House.
He assured colleagues that noting in the bill would stop diversity training, 'but you can't teach that everyone is X, Y, Z automatically, that the entire white race is this or the entire United States is this.”
'You can certainly have discussions of all of these issues,” Holt said. 'I believe you absolutely can have, and have to have, those discussions” as part of a larger conversation and in response to questions.
The House voted along party lines, 59-38, to send the bill to the Senate.
Comments: (319) 398-8375; email@example.com