Board of Regents Free Speech Hearing

During the hearings for HB1073 and SB198 this last legislative session, it was mentioned several times that the policy fixes being discussed should be taken care of at a more local level. Namely, the Board of Regents policies and several of the South Dakota University policies. Thursday was the first significant step towards that goal. Near the end of the committee hearing on SB198 Senator Soholt explained that she would be voting against the bill, but that the Board of Regents needed to take a serious look at the policies and practices of our universities. Senator Bolin made similar remarks, explaining that in South Dakota we are in the habit of letting local control work the problems out.

The free-speech hearing was added into a two-day board meeting by the Regents on the campus of South Dakota State University. They gave opportunity for testimony from University faculty, students as well as national experts. The overall flavor of the hearing: let’s tweak what we have and get it right. The Chicago Statement was mentioned by several of those giving testimony, as well as several board members as a good standard to glean from. One concept outlined in the statement that was discussed throughout the hearing is that the proper response to a message someone deems offensive or even abhorrent is more speech, not censorship.

Blake Meadows with Alliance Defending Freedom outlined 5 common miss-steps they have seen by universities: Misunderstanding who qualifies as a State actor, granting too much power to administrators, vague or unconstitutional policies, speech zones and limiting equal access or expressive association. Tyler Coward with The F.I.R.E. recommended ensuring that all university harassment policies are in line with Davis v. Monroe.

A few other key points made during the hearing:

-Many messages are controversial, but the right to express them must be protected if we value free-speech.

-Controversial speakers and events may result in the need for significant security costs. It was expressed that charging the student groups or the speaker an extra security fee because of this fact may be a barrier to that groups right to present their message.

-Universities in South Dakota aren’t significantly hampering free speech on their campuses, but they are modifying the definition of it and have policies that may prove unconstitutional.

-It is not the role of a University to shield students from views or messages.

-Security fees should be charged based off a viewpoint-neutral standard, and allowing campus and local police the ability to act will often times reduce the potential for a problem.

-Actions that cause damage are illegal, but words, no matter how offensive, are not actions.

-We should not wait until we have a significant event that outlines problematic policies, we should fix them beforehand.

-Including an explanation of free-speech rights in student orientation may be a low-cost way to increase understanding on the issue.

The next step is for the Board to examine their policies and compile possible fixes. They expressed a desire to send the verbiage changes to the major stakeholders for input/advice before they finalize the new policies.

A Victory for Religious Liberty

Justice for Jack

That collective “Praise God” you heard on Monday morning came from the body of Christ, His Church, in reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of Jack Phillips. The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission was brought by Jack Phillips, its owner. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission sought to force the cake shop to employ its considerable artistic talents to craft a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage.

Family Heritage Alliance Action, along with 31 other Family Policy Councils nationwide, signed onto an amicus brief on September 17, 2017 in support of Jack and the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

The facts in this case are simple and painfully clear. Jack Phillips determined that he must not, consistent with the tenets of his faith, use his artistic talents to design and bake a cake that would celebrate the union of a man and a man. For Jack, his participation in celebrating this union would render him culpable before God.

While the verbiage of the decision will be dissected, parsed and spun I want to share with you, in part, a message I received from a fellow family policy council director, Allen Whitt of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia.

Allen wrote:

“Jesus and Mohamed was both full of hate against the LGBTQAI community. And all of you following your skydaddy are using that silly myth to damage LGBTQAI citizens.” Robin Gomez , City Manager, Fairmont, West Virginia

I know it’s all our tendency to pick apart rulings and good news because we know the other shoe usually drops. But I share the above heinous quote that was spat into my face during a recent legislative battle for the following reason. 

My fellow warriors, today’s decision sends a clear message to Robin Gomez and all the others in your states. Do that again to a business owner of faith and we, the Supreme Court of the United States of America, will stop it!

The hostility expressed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the City Manager of Fairmont, West Virginia is becoming more common in the public sphere and is entirely unacceptable. It was a significant issue for the Court in this matter. This should remind us that we are to be salt and light while boldly defending our religious freedoms. This decision rightfully affirms that tolerance is a two-way street.

Praise God indeed. He has once again blessed all Americans of faith!!!

-Ed Randazzo

Click Here to read a further explanation of the victory from Alliance Defending Freedom