Exciting Free-Speech Progress in South Dakota

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On March 20, 2019, Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota signed into law the first bill in the country aimed at protecting and promoting intellectual diversity on college campuses. House Bill 1087, “An Act to promote free speech and intellectual diversity at certain institutions of higher education” received strong support from South Dakota’s House members and state senators before landing on the governor’s desk. Its primary sponsors were Representative Sue Peterson, House Speaker Steven Haugaard, House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, Senator Jim Stalzer, President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield, and Senator Ryan M. Maher.

The bill has several provisions. One important provision requires universities to commit themselves to free expression:

The Board of Regents shall require each institution under its control to maintain a commitment to the principles of free expression and encourage the timely and rational discussion of topics in an environment that is intellectually and ideologically diverse. Neither the Board of Regents nor any institution under its control may attempt to shield individuals from constitutionally protected speech, including ideas and opinions they find offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed.

The legislation also specifies that outdoor areas of public university campuses constitute designated public forums “for the benefit of students, faculty, administrators, other employees, and their invited guests.” Other provisions include the prohibition of discrimination against student groups on the basis of “the content or viewpoint of their expressive activity” and protections for religious and ideologically-based student groups. Specifically:

An institution may not prohibit an ideological, political, or religious student organization from requiring that its leaders or members of the organization affirm and adhere to the organization’s sincerely held beliefs, comply with the organization’s standards of conduct, or further the organization’s mission or purpose, as defined by the organization.

The bill also requires universities to report on their activities to “promote and ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas” and to describe any “events or occurrences that impeded intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.”

It comes at the same time that Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has been promoting his own model legislation to protect intellectual diversity on college campuses.

The bill could encourage other states to take similar actions. The full text of the legislation is available here.

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