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New Law Strengthens Free Speech on Iowa College Campuses

 

AMES, Iowa --  Perhaps the oldest hot button issue in history, may also be the most important.  "The first amendment has been around since 1791," said Julie Roosa, a First Amendment Specialist at Iowa State University.  Xavier Heron, an ISU psychology major added, "It is the first amendment for a reason. It could have been the third or fourth but it is the first and the United States is one of the only places that protects that."

Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a free speech bill stating that Iowa's public universities and community colleges must ensure free expression and that outdoor areas on campus are public forums.  Angela Powers, who serves at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication considers the law huge for all Iowa universities.  She said, "The fact that we are getting support now and college campuses are getting support for freedom of speech on campus is a win-win for everybody."

In the bill, an institution is prohibited from shielding individuals from speech protected by the first amendment even if others find it unwelcome, disagreeable or even offensive.  Roosa said, "It really is designed to protect all sorts of speech so that we are able to hear other viewpoints. Even ones we may disagree with and then make our own decision."

Iowa State has already led the way on free speech education.  The 17th annual "First Amendment Days," kicks off April 8th.  Roosa said, "This is the longest continuous celebration of the first amendment at any university across the nation."

Iowa State as a location called the Agora, where the majority of first amendment platforms are given on campus. The university says it will continue that way because it is a neutral spot and least likely to impede or distract students from getting to and from class which the law deems necessary.  "This is the middle of everywhere so you walk through it when you walk to the science hall which is where I'm going now," said Heron.

Heavily favored by Republican legislators, who pointed to a recent incident at the University of Iowa where an on campus Christian group's membership was revoked after denying a man's bid to be vice president because he was gay.  The federal court reversed the decision but the bill would protect such groups.  Opponents are calling it a slippery slope.  Elaine Conrad, a triple major at ISU in global resource systems, agriculture & science and Spanish said, "I kind of balk at those things because I think it can really easily be used to perpetuate discrimination whether it is based on race or sexuality or gender."

Areas outside of medical and athletic facilities are prohibited from being described as public forums on campus.

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