A week after President Donald Trump signed an executive order meant to mandate free speech at research universities and colleges, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday signed into law state free-speech legislation inspired by recent events on campuses but criticized by some left-leaning lawmakers.
The new law requires among other things Iowa’s public universities and colleges to adopt free-speech policies; prohibit First Amendment restrictions pertaining to public assemblies, campus property and visiting speakers; and allow student organizations to choose group leaders based on their beliefs and alignment with the group’s beliefs.
That last provision received loud opposition from Democrats earlier this month, with Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, calling it “state-sponsored discrimination.”
She was among Democrats in the House and Senate pushing to drop the line about student organization leadership. But the proposal survived unchanged.
The overall bill passed the House 52-44, with Rep. Megan Jones, R-Sioux Rapids, joining Democrats in opposition. It passed the Senate 35-11 with Democratic support including Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, whose district represents Iowa State University.
Iowa’s Board of Regents, among the bodies responsible for employing the new law, last year opposed the measure as unnecessary. This year, board spokesman Josh Lehman reiterated that free speech long has been a core principle.
After the governor’s signing Wednesday, American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa Policy Director Daniel Zeno echoed that sentiment.
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“Most importantly, it eliminates so-called ‘free speech zones,’ which are really anything but,” Zeno said. Still, the ACLU has “deep concerns” with the law, specifically the portion dealing with student organization leadership.
“Our government should not be subsidizing discrimination, and unfortunately this new law does that,” according to the ACLU statement.
Legislative debate invoked a recent court case involving a faith-based student group at the University of Iowa.
In that case, the UI in 2017 deregistered Business Leaders in Christ — or BLinC — for barring an openly gay member from becoming one of the group’s leaders.
BLinC sued the university for violating its First Amendment rights and for discrimination.
A federal court judge found the university was unevenly enforcing its human rights policy, ordering the UI to let the group back on campus until it enforces its policy on all student groups.
A second lawsuit against the UI from InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship is unresolved.
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