Freedom of speech on campus: the case of Scott Walker
YAF president and former governor of Wisconsin explains his efforts to tackle speech restrictions on college campuses, such as with the new House Free Speech Caucus.
Bbecause From an increase in illiberal speech restrictions on college campuses across the country, a free speech caucus was formed in the House of Representatives. As part of the caucus formation, Young America’s Foundation President Scott Walker, former Governor of Wisconsin, spoke with National examby Luther Abel to outline the urgent need for such a caucus and what its members hope to accomplish.
Luther abel: Please describe the objectives of the Free Speech Caucus and the rationale behind its creation.
Scott walker: The biggest problem we face when it comes to college campuses is the cancellation of culture. Why we call it the Free Speech Caucus is a step. . . to create a certain balance. Despite all the talk about diversity on college campuses these days, the only diversity that really isn’t apparent is diversity in intellect or thought. Unless you are aligned with the radical left, even the moderates, let alone conservative voices, are not allowed to be heard. Young America’s Foundation, we’ve been involved in the battle for free speech for some time. Over the past few years we’ve had some really big battles at the University of California at Berkeley and other places. But Berkeley being the most important where, after we filed a complaint, the university had to back down and change its policies, give us a small payment for legal fees, and completely change its policies. They claimed they were for free speech, but in the end they put up barriers that made it nearly impossible for a conservative group to bring in speakers. members of the House – is one more tool, along with state and local leaders, to try to avoid having to go to court every time there is a violation of our constitutional rights, and instead be proactive so that students, organizations and speakers can be heard.
THE: What do you mean by “freedom of expression”?
SW: The simple thing is that the Constitution guarantees the rights of freedom of expression. Our belief [is] that it should not only be constitutionally guaranteed, but revered on our college campuses, yet that is where it is most at risk. We approach it from a conservative perspective, but when we talk about free speech, it’s for everyone. Whether they are conservatives or liberals. It could be someone who has a different religious belief than mine, someone who has a different point of view or opinion. . . . We believe it is fundamental and should be protected for everyone, no matter who they are, what they look like, where they come from or what their beliefs are.
THE: On this last point, would it include defending the rights of expression of those who espouse ideologies such as critical race theory, various forms of supremacy or forms of collectivism such as communism and socialism? More simply, if they exist, what are the outer limits of acceptable discourse?
SW: For us, it has always been in two parts. We believe that with freedom of expression, especially on college campuses, there must be a discussion of ideas and a debate of ideas. Obviously, some ideas, like those two examples you gave, are unfortunately not unrelated in the sense that the CRT in its purest form is state sanctioned racism. The irony is that for a lot of people who claim to support [CRT], they also try to claim the legacy of people like Dr. Martin Luther King. If you read his teachings and his words, they would be quite the opposite [to CRT]. One of Dr King’s most famous speeches of all time, his speech on the Mall of Washington, he said he dreams of the day his children will be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. Having these debates is certainly one thing. We don’t think that from a conservative point of view, but who knows in the future it might be someone else, if you restrict a person’s free speech today, years in the future it could be someone different [whose speech is limited]. Firstly, freedom of expression must be guaranteed for everyone, that’s what the Constitution says, even if I don’t like [what someone says] or even despise it. Free speech is a right in the US Constitution, and we shouldn’t have to go to court every time someone tries to block or threaten it. Second, as a conservative, I think it’s up to me, even though I don’t have a perfectly level playing field, but I have at least one point of entry into the dialogue, so I have to stand up for the ideas that I believe are the best. Just like a tangent, I argue that when it comes to the progressives of today, the liberals of yesterday, they are really trying to pit one group of Americans against another. If you don’t agree with them [progressives], so you’re Neanderthal, you’re racist, you’re sexist, you’re transphobic, whatever the phrase of the day. Our argument beyond free speech, as conservatives we should speak of our love for America and how we want freedom and opportunity to be available to all; it doesn’t matter what they look like, where they are from, whether they were born here or you legally came from somewhere. We should be arguing for the same for everyone, the same access to freedom and opportunity.
THE: With much of education controlled by states, what federal legislation will alleviate this need for speech protection? How well should we regulate DC education?
SW: As small as possible. This [the Free Speech Caucus] is not the alpha and omega. It’s part of a total effort where we want to work with governors, lawmakers, local officials, and even leaders on individual campuses. We know that right now, with so much being kicked out of Washington, DC, it’s good to have people in the House and the Senate, and ideally, people in the administration who make sure that the freedom to d expression is part of everything Washington’s fate. Personally, I would like nothing to come out of Washington. I think our founders wanted it that way. Our goal is not to take charge of education policy, but rather of the decisions that are made within our federal government to ensure that there are people, watch dogs if you will. , which ensure that free speech rights are not only protected, but that the actions of the federal government in no way interfere with the ability of students and others to see their free speech rights protected.
THE: Who takes the head of this caucus?
SW: It was initiated by YAF, the Young America’s Foundation. We are pleased to have two co-chairs with whom we are working. Longtime YAF ally and Congressman, Congressman Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), and a relatively new member, the youngest woman in the Republican conference, is U.S. Representative Kat Cammack (R. , Florida). The two work together. In her case, she actually has a vested interest because the University of Florida is one of the places we’ve had to work and threaten legal action in the past. She is very aware of this and is working with Congressman Jordan, who has been very active on this file and many others in the past. They are both co-chairs. We will help to help them provide support and information for their monthly briefing. The House, unlike the US Senate, actually had to table a case to make it an official caucus, so that’s what we just announced this week.
THEQ .: With Democrats in control of Congress until at least 2022, what are the near-term opportunities to protect speech with this caucus?
SW: I think one of the most important things is attention. Just the fact that, with an increasing number of members in the House and then in the Senate talking about free speech – by the way, that doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. If you look at it with philosophy, [there] should be as many Democrats joining this caucus as Republicans. I don’t know practically if that will happen, but if you look at the issue of free speech 40 or 50 years ago, many of those who today are behind restrictions on free speech were students from the 60s to the 70s arguing against the university policies they thought [were] prohibitive against liberal views. Now there are liberals running these colleges and universities outlawing conservative views. It’s funny how some things come full circle. The bottom line is that free speech is free speech no matter who is involved [and] what are their opinions. Again, I’m not going to hold my breath that there will be a majority of Free Speech Caucus members who will be Democrats, but hopefully there will be. For me, it should be a flip. It’s an easy argument to make that you believe in free speech no matter what. But most of all, even if this caucus is not in a position to push through a specific law, it can certainly bring attention to this issue, which in itself is useful.