NASHVILLE, Tenn. ― A Republican lawmaker on Thursday defended his comments that free speech rights on Tennessee college campuses should apply to everyone ― even recruiters for the Islamic State group.
State Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville said on the floor of the state House that he supports First Amendment rights for people and groups regardless of whether he agrees with their aims.
“I will never apologize for defending the First Amendment,” he said. “I will always cloak myself in it, and defend others’ right to speak.”
Daniel had been challenged about the impact of his proposed “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act” in a committee hearing a day earlier. Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis had asked whether it would go so far as to allow people to stand in the middle of campus and “recruit for ISIS.”
Daniel responded that it would.
“So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus, yes sir,” he said. “They can recruit people for any other organization, too, or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”
Following Daniel’s comments, Chairman Mark White, R-Memphis, abruptly moved to have the bill removed from consideration for the year.
Daniel’s bill is part of a larger effort by GOP lawmakers to rein in what they call overzealous diversity initiatives at the University of Tennessee’s flagship Knoxville campus. Some officials there have encouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns and advised against religious-themed holiday parties. The school later rescinded both initiatives.
The University of Tennessee also drew the ire of religious conservatives for banning John McGlone of Breeding, Kentucky, from preaching on campus in 2010 because he had not gained authorization from the school.
McGlone sued, and the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found the policies to be vague and open to discrimination. The university subsequently enacted new policies requiring outside speakers to be invited to campus.
Daniel’s bill would have banned schools from adopting policies to “suppress debate or deliberation because the ideas being debated or deliberated upon are considered to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong.”
Deberry said Daniel’s bill would have gone too far.
“You can’t have a nation and keep it safe and keep it sane unless there are some rules and some norms,” he said.