Conservatives put pressure on the Trump administration to ensure their free speech and freedom of religion, even if their definition includes silencing or negating the rights of others. In July 2018, President Donald Trump created—through then Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a religious liberty task force at the Justice Department to address some of those concerns.
The move was lauded by the President’s Evangelical Christian base but criticized by human rights organizations as a free pass to discriminate in secular arenas while citing religion.
Now Trump is addressing the complaint about censorship of conservative voices on college campuses. Several speeches by high-profile conservatives were canceled after widespread protests from students or for lack of an audience.
Now the Trump administration intends to threaten the federal funding of colleges it deems are not following free speech guidelines on campus. The President signed an executive order directing “12 grant-making agencies to work with the Office of Management and Budget” to decide which schools research and education funds will be affected.
But how will the offenders be identified?
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of an organization that defends free expression rights, PEN America, stated:
“I think the federal government can have a role in reinforcing the principles of the First Amendment and the commitment to freedom expression and academic freedom at public universities in particular.”
“But when you get into the possibility of punitive measures and the withholding of federal funds based on, you know, particularly kind of very vague definitions of, you know an idea like free inquiry. That’s worrisome.”
Critics say the parameters for violations are too vague and open to abuse of power. Others claim the order addresses a problem that does not exist.
Should campuses be forced to fund speakers and speeches students refuse to attend? Does free speech extend to forced listening? Are schools to be penalized if individual students exercise their right to protest a speaker?
Trump previewed his executive order at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
The President stated earlier this month:
“If they want our dollars and we give it to them by the billions they’ve got to allow people like Hayden [Williams] and many other great young people and old people to speak. And if they don’t, it will be very costly.”
Williams was allegedly assaulted at UC Berkley while trying to recruit students for Turning Point USA. The organization, founded by Charlie Kirk, maintains a Professor Watchlist of college professors it alleges discriminate against conservative students and advance left-wing propaganda in the classroom.
Kirk tweeted about the President signing the executive order today.
Today @realDonaldTrump signed an executive order to protect free speech on college campuses
He brought on stage with him a @TPUSA activist who was harassed and bullied on campus by university faculty because of her beliefs
This is not uncommon. But it ends today! pic.twitter.com/Yxa25pIj9S
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) March 21, 2019
Based on Trump’s remarks at CPAC, 11 groups issued a statement in advance of the signing. They characterized the President’s newest order as “a dangerous solution to a largely nonexistent problem.”
“While the specific provisions of the promised executive order have not been revealed, like such legislation they are liable to interfere with institutional autonomy and governance in ways that is more likely to stifle than encourage free expression and diversity of opinion.”
“There are and always will be individuals on campus and in society generally who wish to silence those with whom they disagree. But punitive and simplistic measures will only exacerbate the problems they may create.”
After the signing ceremony, people commented on whether this action would be applied equally to all colleges and all speech or just to promote and protect conservatives.
Now do Liberty University.
— KevDog (@kevdog) March 21, 2019
Looking forward to my equal time to discuss abortion and gun control. They wouldn’t want to give up the HALF BILLION dollars of federal financial aid.
— R3515t0R (@R3515T0R) March 21, 2019
Here’s the sneaky part, that’s not included and for just that reason. Only research dollars.
— KevDog (@kevdog) March 21, 2019
Some called it out as dog whistle politics, like the religious liberty task force.