DES MOINES, Iowa – On Tuesday, the Iowa House passed HF 744, a bill to protect free speech in schools, by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 96 to 1 vote.
HF 744 provides additional free speech protections for students and staff in K-12 schools and college campuses. It prohibits faculty and staff from intentionally violating the free speech of students and allows disciplinary measures if violations occur. And, it requires free speech training at all Regent universities for students and faculty.
State Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, managed the bill through the Iowa House.
“The reason free speech is so important in the world of education is because that’s when our young folks of this state are developing their own thoughts and ideas,” Hite said during his closing remarks.
“It’s not education institutions’ job to tell those kids what to think, it’s to give them the tools to decide what to think. It’s not to come down on one side or the other, but to give them both sides of the argument, the ability to see all sides and decide for themselves. That’s why free speech is so important. That’s why it’s important that we cannot and we should not stifle that free speech and nowhere Is it more important than our educational institutions.”
The bill had vast bipartisan support.
“When it comes to the First Amendment, we have to take the long view. Today, it’s mostly conservatives we hear arguing for free speech. But in the 50s and 60s, it was the liberals, civil rights activists, and anti-Vietnam protesters that pushed for First Amendment rights,” State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, a law professor at the University of Iowa, said during the debate.
“Civil rights and social justice movements have always needed strong free speech protection because these movements challenge the status quo and threaten existing power structures. The First Amendment is about the right to speak truth to power. No one needs that more than the powerless. our democracy depends on the ability to hold our government accountable, no matter what party is in charge at any given time. That is why the First Amendment must protect conservative speech, liberal speech, and everything in between,” she added.
State Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, who is a journalism professor at Drake University, also supported the bill.
“I will stand up for the rights of conservative students in my classes, every single day, their discourse is critically important. Them knowing where I come from is critically important. What I do is for students to think critically, whether they’re conservative or liberal, and this bill allows for that to happen in every classroom across the state. So I support this, I’m supportive of this effort. And if you’re a conservative, in one of my classes, you have just as much right to speak as any liberal,” she said.
Speaker of the Iowa House Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said in a released statement that protecting Iowa students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights has been a priority of Iowa House Republicans this session.
“After having multiple stories from Iowa schools and universities brought to our attention, protecting free speech in educational settings became a top priority for Iowa House Republicans,” Grassley said. “It’s unfortunate that we even had to take this action today, but Iowa House Republicans refuse to turn a blind eye to attempts to indoctrinate Iowa students and stifle their free speech rights.”
State Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, was the only vote opposing the bill. “Frankly it does not do a thing and is pure code clutter. Let’s study the Constitution as a whole. It simply does not help all to speak,” he told The Iowa Torch in an email.
The ACLU of Iowa and Iowa Association of School Boards supported the legislation. No group was registered as opposed to the bill.
Read the bill below:HF744