Latest News and Commentary: National

August 21, 2022
By Ilya Somin
The Volokh Conspiracy, Reason Magazine

Excerpt: Last week, a US federal district court ruled that a key element of Florida's recently enacted "Stop Woke Act" is unconstitutional, because it violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. The relevant part of the act bars employers from requiring workers to attend trainings or engage in any other "activity" that involves promotion of any of a long list of prohibited ideas.

As Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida notes in his opinion, this is part of a pattern in which Florida has enacted a series of laws that violate the free speech rights of private organizations on the pretext that doing so somehow prevents them from undermining freedom of speech themselves:

August 19, 2022
By Roger McKinney and Aarik Danielsen
Columbia Daily Tribune

Excerpt: Five years after he spoke in Columbia, the attack on Salman Rushdie one week ago places greater emphasis on the importance of free speech. Rushdie, 75, a best-selling author, was stabbed last Friday as he was preparing to give a lecture in upstate New York, receiving severe injuries to his neck and abdomen.

He was the keynote speaker of the 2017 Unbound Book Festival in Columbia. Rushdie joked at his talk in Jesse Auditorium that between him and Khomeini, he was the only one still living. Unbound founder Alex George was understandably shocked by the recent attack, he wrote in an email. Having hosted Rushdie at a public event, "I found it difficult to process that an attack that I had considered as a somewhat abstract threat had actually happened," he wrote.

August 19, 2022
By Hank Reichman
Academe Blog

Excerpt: Seven professors and a college student in Florida’s public higher education institutions filed suit yesterday to block a new state law that Governor Ron DeSantis calls the “Stop WOKE Act” and which curtails instruction about race and gender as well as much race-based expression in private business.  The Florida and national branches of the American Civil Liberties Union are backing the lawsuit, which claims the act, also known as the Individual Freedom Act (IFA), violates free speech rights and discriminates against Black students and instructors.

The law, which took effect July 1, prohibits teaching or business practices that allegedly contend members of one ethnic group are inherently racist and should feel guilt for past actions committed by others.  It also bars the notion that a person’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by their race or gender, or that discrimination is acceptable to achieve diversity. 

August 19, 2022
By Zach Greenberg
Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression

When FIRE asks universities to protect students’ free speech rights, we’ve gotten our fair share of outright denials, curt rejections, and shameless ghosting. But rarely does a public university suggest the First Amendment doesn’t really apply to them. Allow us to present Virginia Commonwealth University’s response to FIRE’s letter urging VCU to end deferred recruitment.

August 18, 2022
By Ty Tagami
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Excerpt: There she went again. After being admonished the month before for taking the podium at a Forsyth County school board meeting and reading from an explicit portion of a book, Alison Hair was back at the microphone, with passages from a young adult novel in her hands.

When she got to a sentence that included the words “arching up into her,” the gavel came down. Tap. Tap. Tap. “Ms. Hair, Ms. Hair,” board chairman Wesley McCall interjected. Still, she kept going. Hair didn’t stop until McCall interrupted to ask if the book had been formally challenged. “It is in your library!” she screamed at him. She would later be barred from attending school board meetings.

August 18, 2022
By Wynne Davis
NPR

Students at the Keller Independent School District outside Fort Worth, Texas, went back to school Wednesday. But instead of the focus being on their return, much of the attention has been heaped on an email that was sent out the day before, instructing school staff to pull all copies of a list of more than 40 books from classrooms and school libraries.

The books that were pulled include the graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank's diary, all versions of the Bible and numerous books with LGBTQ+ themes or characters. The School Board did not say why the Bible and the Anne Frank book were removed, but parents had objected to them, according to the list.

August 18, 2022
By Brian Lopez
Texas Tribune

A new law requiring Texas schools to display donated “In God We Trust” posters is the latest move by Republican lawmakers to bring Christianity into taxpayer-funded institutions. Under the law, Senate Bill 797, which passed during last year’s legislative session, schools are required to display the posters if they are donated.

The law went into effect last year, but these posters weren’t popping up then as many school officials and parents were more concerned about new COVID-19 strains and whether their local public school would even open for in-person classes.

August 17, 2022
By Zach Greenberg
Foundation for Individual Rights in Expression

The University of St. Thomas harmonizes free speech with its religious mission, laudably promising to give its full blessing to students’ expressive rights as part of its Catholic identity. Yet when the university’s College Republicans chapter sought to make good on this promise by requesting to host political commentator Michael Knowles, St. Thomas rejected the request because administrators didn’t like his views, thereby betraying the school’s commitment to free speech by violating the group’s right to host campus speakers.

August 16, 2022
By Christian Schneider
College Fix

The U.S. Department of Education shut down its “free speech hotline” without fanfare or public announcement in July 2021 after the communication channel received about two dozen complaints during its eight-month lifespan.

Copies of the complaints were handed over late last month by the federal agency to The College Fix after the filing of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in June to gain access. In a statement Friday to The College Fix, the education department said the hotline became inactive as of July 30, 2021.

August 16, 2022
By Colleen Flaherty
Inside Higher Ed

The director of the University of Florida’s honors program, who has been in the role eight years, says he was fired for no apparent reason with two years left on his current, five-year contract. Mark Law, the director, also says he was told that the university’s Board of Trustees insisted on his ouster, against the will of the university’s president and provost.

The news about Law, coupled with ongoing concerns about academic freedom and political interference at UF, has therefore troubled some on campus.