Rep. Martin Daniel responds after free speech bill withdrawn

Published: Mar. 17, 2016 at 11:17 AM EDT
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A bill calling for more free speech rights at public colleges and universities in Tennessee has been withdrawn after the sponsor said it would allow Islamic State recruiters to operate on campuses.

Republican Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville was challenged Wednesday about the impact that his "Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act" would have on campuses.

Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis 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."

After those comments, the Republican chairman of the panel, Rep. Mark White of Memphis, abruptly moved to have the bill taken off notice for the year.

Rep. Daniels released the following statement:

He released this statement:

"I fundamentally disagree with ISIS’s philosophy and I unequivocally condemn their abhorrent, cruel, inhuman acts of terror and violence. That said, the unavoidable fact is that the First Amendment guarantees us the right to express any opinion, including opinions that most of us find repugnant and fundamentally wrong, so long as they don’t cause an imminent risk of harm. To make it clear, there's a big difference between saying that someone has a right to speak, and agreeing or disagreeing with the content of that speech. Frankly, simple recruitment efforts by any organization, standing alone, might be protected by the First Amendment. However, offering material support, including one’s service, to a terrorist organization is forbidden by the United States Patriot Act of 2001. Joining ISIS (offering one’s service to a terrorist organization) is illegal, on college campuses or anywhere else in the United States.

Furthermore, although clearly I believe that free speech should generally be protected, if such speech should cross the line so that it becomes an imminent threat to someone, including our country, that would NOT be protected speech (see Brandenburg v Ohio, a Supreme Court opinion from 1969, in which the Supreme Court held that only speech that presents a "clear and present danger" is prohibitable).

I realize these comments may not be satisfactory to some, who may question how I could defend the right to free speech of supporters of a cruel and evil organization like ISIS. Granted, I firmly believe that ISIS is despicable and evil, and I am confident that the vast majority of people with any sense of human decency will agree as well.

I am sure that each of us holds many opinions that someone, somewhere, would find wrong or offensive. My point is that if we weaken the First Amendment by making its protection selective, based on what is currently viewed as evil or inappropriate, we are weakening its ability to protect us all.

Opponents of my Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act, by bringing up an unrelated hypothetical situation of ISIS recruiting on campus, have intentionally distracted from the point of my bill, which is to guarantee all students the right to express themselves on college campuses, whether their opinions are considered open-minded, closed-minded, religious, non-religious, anti-religious, brilliant, stupid, progressive, or offensive. I am seeing liberal college administrators impose their views of what is right and proper speech on conservative students who feel uncomfortable in disagreement. I am trying to remedy that problem. ALL students should have the right to express their opinions, and that is what this bill is about.

In conclusion, speech advocating violence is not and should not be legally protected. The remedy for objectionable, disagreeable non-violent speech is not silence or suppression of speech – it is more speech."