We need your help! Last week our comrades at Michigan Student Power Network let us know of their efforts to stop House Bill 4436. The bill is being dressed as a “freedom of speech” bill that will harm students. House Bill no. 4436 raises several major issues by forcing colleges to adopt policies around protestors and student speakers on campus.

Below is their quick info guide for you to catch up on the bill. We’re hoping you can reach out to your representative today or join us in Lansing tomorrow! I’ll be there so feel free to reach out!

Sign up to oppose the bill in Lansing on Thursday, 5/16! https://forms.gle/o9kSd7BgmSasVGt9A

Michigan Student Power Network Info Guide

What is this bill?

Read about this bill on the Michigan Legislature Website: MI House Bill 4436 – “Free speech” bill for universities and colleges

House Bill no. 4436 raises several major issues by forcing colleges to adopt policies around protestors and student speakers on campus.

  1. This bill would allow for student groups to invite any speaker that they want without being stopped by the University. A student group would be defined as any group officially recognized by the University.

  2. Any protests or demonstrations would be restricted in their actions in vague terms.

    1. “(iv) A statement assuring any person lawfully present on campus the right to protest or demonstrate there but making clear that protests and demonstrations that substantially and materially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity are not permitted and are subject to sanction…”

    2. This could violate this First Amendment right of protestors to shout over or disrupt speakers in public spaces on campus.

History

Similar legislation to this bill was proposed by Patrick Colbeck last year. At that time, the ACLU made a broad series of criticisms that watered down the bills to the point where it no longer made sense to attempt to pass this bills.

In Florida, similar bills were proposed, but were also successfully defeated by organizers. This is part of a larger trend of hate speech bills being passed in state legislatures across the country following Trump’s executive order which threatened to withhold federal funds from universities.

Bill Sponsors

John Reilly (district 46)

Michele Hoitenga, Steven Johnson, Aaron Miller, Luke Meerman, Brad Paquette, Gregory Markkanen, Pamela Hornberger, Beau LaFave, Gary Eisen, Mike Mueller

Status and Trajectory of the Bill

Status

  • On 4/9/19, it was referred to House Committee on Oversight and chaired by Matt Hall

  • On 4/18/19, met in Committee and brought to the floor, where the ACLU testified against it

  • On 5/16/19, the ACLU, the Michigan Student Power Network, and other community members will be testifying against this bill in the Michigan House

Trajectory

  • The Michigan Legislative Session runs until last week of June

    • This means either the bill will be voted on and denied/accepted then, or it will be continued until after this session.

  • Whitmer will likely veto this bill if it does pass.

Opposition to these bills

It is important to note that opposition from this bill is from all sides of the aisle. Who are some major stakeholders who oppose this bill?

  1. Universities and colleges in Michigan

This bill would force institutions to do a complete overhaul of many of their policies, and limit the free speech of people affiliated with those institutions. The Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) have publicly testified against this bill. MASU is a lobbying organization that represents all major MI universities including U-M, MSU, WMU, EMU, CMU, GVSU, WSU, and OU.

Part of this bill reads “(viii) A statement assuring that the institution will strive to remain neutral, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day, except those that affect the function of the institution or the rights and welfare of members of its community, and will not take any action, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day that would require students or faculty to publicly express a given view of social policy.”

This could severely limit the ability of colleges to engage in divestment campaigns or other forms of political engagement that universities have traditionally engaged in e.g. South Africa. Further, this bill doesn’t seem like it is addressing areal problem. Most universities already have rules around disruptive speech on campus and are cautious in taking public political stances (such as a divestment campaign). Laws like these can create more confusion than clarity, creating administrative burdens on universities, and ironically end up limiting speech.

  1. Representatives who represent districts that have universities and colleges

In recognizing the harmful impacts of this bill to all involved, both Democratic and Republican legislators are opposed to this bill, particularly those whose constituency includes higher education institutions.

  1. The ACLU

As this is limiting free speech, the ACLU is in opposition to this bill and has testified against it.

  1. Students and community members (including the Michigan Student Power Network)

The Michigan Student Power Network (MSPN), a statewide network of college organizers, has reached out to other organizations and elected officials to work to oppose this bill. Their stance is that attacks on university budgets, affirmative action, and independence have come via legislation, combining with ideological attacks on safe spaces, student organizers, and the legitimacy of marginalized students on campus.

Further, this bill seems to encourage sanctioning students that interfere with the speech of others (such as heckling a speaker). This threat of sanctions will probably make students, faculty, staff, etc. afraid of speaking out (even if it’s just a sharply worded disagreement). In their words, speakers that call for genocidal policies, or that use pseudo science to justify white supremacy are not a legitimate part of debate on campus, they are weaponized voices being used to justify and inspire violence.

What can you do?

  1. Support opposition to this bill in legislature in Lansing!

On Thursday, May 15, Michiganders are heading to Lansing to testify in front of the Michigan House of Representatives. If you’d like to testify in person, submit written testimony, or show up to support, fill out this form: https://forms.gle/y5Fg9w27xjBPHDCM8

  1. Call your representatives and Governor Whitmer, and ask Whitmer to veto the bill!

Phone Script:

Hello my name is __________________

I’m a student at _______________ and I wanted to share my feelings on MI House Bill 4436. This bill claims to be about protecting our freedom of speech on college campuses but it actually does the opposite by restricting debate and disagreement, and forbidding universities from taking stands on important issues.

Section four of this bill would violate the right of students to disagree with speakers on campus and is worded vaguely. I fear this could make verbal disruptions or even just sharp disagreement during Q&A segments punishable offenses on our campuses.

The bill would also forbid universities from taking a public stand on “public policy controversies of the day.” This wording could easily be interpreted to ban important stances that universities took in the past, like divestment from Apartheid South Africa.

This bill isn’t about free speech, it’s about mobilizing our university infrastructure against student protest in order to create more of a haven for hateful ideologies on our campus. Please vote against this bill.

Thank you for your time.

2. Email your representatives!

Hello my name is __________________ I’m a student at _______________ and I wanted to share my feelings on MI House Bill 4436. This bill claims to be about freedom of speech campuses, but there are key provisions that I think endanger that freedom and give more weight to voices of hate on our campus. There are two key places where I feel like this legislation harms our campus.

First, section three of this bill would strengthen the punishment guidelines against students who disrupt speakers on campus. The legislation is worded vaguely to make both the definition of “disrupt” and the sanctions faced by students far too broad. As currently worded we fear this could make verbal disruptions or even just sharp disagreement during Q&A segments punishable offenses on our campuses. We believe this guideline will have the practical effect of making speakers that advocate genocide, inequality, and racial prejudice more secure on campus, while pushing students who are targeted by these ideologies to the margins. This is unacceptable.

Second, the bill would forbid universities from taking a public stand on “public policy controversies of the day.” Such a guideline would ensure that our universities take a naturally conservative position, only adopting changes to their stances after the rest of society has changed. This wording could easily be interpreted to ban Important stances that universities took in the past, like Divestment from South Africa. It seems like this part of the legislation is less about free speech, and more about banning the exercise of speech by the students, faculty, and staff of the university. This bill isn’t about free speech, it’s about mobilizing our university infrastructure against student protest, in order to create more of a haven for hateful ideologies on our campus.

Please vote against this bill. Thank you for your time