10.26.17

Murray Highlights Importance of Free Speech on College Campuses; Urges Campus and Community Leaders to Do More to Push Back Against Violence and Hate Speech on Campuses

In hearing, Senator Murray celebrated the First Amendment as the “cornerstone of our democracy,” while emphasizing need for colleges and universities to protect students and speak out against the rise of hate speech and violence on their campuses

 

College campuses around the country have noted increases in harassment of minority students and racist incidents since the 2016 election

 

Murray: “We also must speak out against groups and organizations that are looking to use their right to free speech to divide us, to attack the most vulnerable among us, and to feed on people’s fear in the service of hate.”

 

(Washington, D.C.) –Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee delivered the following opening statement today at a Committee hearing discussing Free Speech on Campus. Senators on both sides of the aisle agreed that freedom of speech is critical on college campuses, and Senator Murray emphasized the importance of protecting students from violence and to speak out against those with an agenda of extremism, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny.

 

In her opening statement, Ranking Member Murray called out President Trump for his influence on the current climate on campuses:

 

“When you look at who we have in the White House right now…it should not come as a surprise when we see an apparent resurgence of hate, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny on our campuses.”

 

More key excerpts from Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement:

 

“Everyone in this room can agree that free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy. It is what allows us to disagree and debate political ideas without fear of retribution. It allows us to speak out if our government is acting in a dishonest, unethical or unlawful manner. It allows open and honest discussion of ideas—new and old. And it has allowed civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dolores Huerta to stand up—and peacefully fight for what is right. So there is no real debate about whether or not there should be free speech on college campuses, or anywhere else.”

 

“Here is the issue worth discussing today: how can we protect this constitutional right while also making sure that our colleges and universities are places where everyone can feel safe, learn, and respectfully debate ideas. And—as a part of that conversation, we need to discuss how elected leaders, community members, and college and university administrators, can best exercise their First Amendment right to do everything in their power to push back against those driving an agenda of extremism, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny. And—we also must speak out against groups and organizations that are looking to use their right to free speech to divide us, to attack the most vulnerable among us, and to feed on people’s fear in the service of hate.

 

“When you look at who we have in the White House right now—some of the rhetoric he has used and continues to use, some of the people he has hired, and some of the groups he has encouraged—it should not come as a surprise when we see an apparent resurgence of hate, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny on our campuses.”

 

“That is why this conversation must include a discussion about the responsibility of community leaders and college administrators to use their own voices to speak out against hate and refuse to normalize racist or otherwise bigoted viewpoints—while also respecting the free speech rights of those they disagree with. This conversation must include a discussion about what colleges can be doing to keep students safe—and how to also respect the rights of students who want to speak out against hate and extremism.”

 

Full text below of Ranking Member Murray’s opening statement:

 

Free Speech on Campus Hearing Opening Remarks

Senator Patty Murray

Thursday, October 26, 2017

**As prepared for delivery**

 

 

“Thank you Chairman Alexander.

 

“I want to thank all of our witnesses for being here today and thank you for your commitment to protecting free speech on college campuses and elsewhere.

 

“Everyone in this room can agree that free speech is a cornerstone of our democracy.

 

“It is what allows us to disagree and debate political ideas without fear of retribution. It allows us to speak out if our government is acting in a dishonest, unethical or unlawful manner. It allows open and honest discussion of ideas—new and old. And it has allowed civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dolores Huerta to stand up—and peacefully fight for what is right.

 

“So there is no real debate about whether or not there should be free speech on college campuses, or anywhere else.

 

“That is something we all agree on—despite some people trying to create straw men by saying that one side or another doesn’t.

 

“But here is the issue worth discussing today: how can we protect this constitutional right while also making sure that our colleges and universities are places where everyone can feel safe, learn, and respectfully debate ideas.

 

“And—as a part of that conversation, we need to discuss how elected leaders, community members, and college and university administrators, can best exercise their First Amendment right to do everything in their power to push back against those driving an agenda of extremism, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny.  

 

“And—we also must speak out against groups and organizations that are looking to use their right to free speech to divide us, to attack the most vulnerable among us, and to feed on people’s fear in the service of hate.

 

“This is a necessary and vital discussion for this Committee and all of us to have.

 

“And while I believe there are a whole lot of people on campuses across the country doing great work on this front, recent events have made it clear that we’re not there yet.

 

“So here is where I want to start—with what should be an obvious statement: I think we can all agree there is no place for violence on our college campuses but unfortunately—in the last ten months—we have seen more and more of this across the country.

 

“And when you look at who we have in the White House right now—some of the rhetoric he has used and continues to use, some of the people he has hired, and some of the groups he has encouraged—it should not come as a surprise when we see an apparent resurgence of hate, bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny on our campuses.  

 

“What we’ve heard coming out of this White House has been shocking at times. But what has been even more disturbing has been how so many others—even those who opposed him previously—allowed the rhetoric and attacks to be normalized.

 

“This normalization of attacks based on how a person worships, who they are, and where they come from seems to have emboldened extremist hate groups to come out of the shadows.

 

“And with that—in some parts of the country—we’ve seen reports of a rise in hate crimes and violence—especially in our college campuses.

 

“For years, there has been a concerted effort to combat hate-groups—in the courts and in the hearts and minds of the American people. As a result, these radical organizations had been steadily pushed to the margins of society.

 

“But in 2015, they found a voice they could rally behind.

 

“It’s no secret that leadership in this country have made disparaging public comments against Mexican Americans, women, and Muslims.

 

“Unlike before when these individuals knew they would be shunned by their friends, neighbors, and communities for these views—this rhetoric has emboldened extremist hate groups to come back out of the shadows.  

 

“There are reports of a disturbing rise of racist vandalism and harassment of religious minorities, an up-tick in the distribution of hateful flyers on college campuses and recruitment of students on college campuses—including right here in Washington, D.C. and in my home state of Washington.

 

“Just yesterday, I met with a bright young student named Taylor from American University. Earlier this year, Taylor was elected A-U’s first African American female student body president—and the same day racist messages were found hanging across campus. While the FBI is investigating these incidents as hate-crimes, Taylor is speaking out to highlight the toll this is taking on the students being targeted by hate speech.

 

“And—like a true leader—Taylor took this experience to begin a larger dialogue about bigotry, working with the University’s administration to make the school a more welcoming and safe place for all students.  

 

“And this is just one incident. There are so many more.

 

“Earlier this summer, hundreds of white supremacists organized from around the country to travel to the University of Virginia’s campus in Charlottesville. These individuals marched through the city—shouting Nazi slogans and racist chants.

 

“And when a group of counter-protestors—many of whom were residents of Charlottesville and students, staff, and faculty at the University—stood up and said they would not tolerate this kind of hate in their community they were attacked.  

 

“During the clash in Charlottesville—unconscionably, a young woman described as “a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised” was killed. And, more than 30 were injured.

 

“Now, I want to be clear—both sides in Charlottesville were NOT to blame and many people on both sides of the aisle stood up and spoke out to condemn this act of domestic terrorism—and to push back against President Trump’s response.

 

“But it is very clear that there needs to be a discussion about what is happening on our college campuses—that we haven’t solved this problem yet—and I’m glad we’re having it here.

 

“As I said at the beginning, no one is debating the right to free speech—but colleges and universities must also ensure campuses are safe and welcoming to all students.

 

“That is why this conversation must include a discussion about the responsibility of community leaders and college administrators to use their own voices to speak out against hate and refuse to normalize racist or otherwise bigoted viewpoints—while also respecting the free speech rights of those they disagree with.

 

“This conversation must include a discussion about what colleges can be doing to keep students safe—and how to also respect the rights of students who want to speak out against hate and extremism.  

 

“College campuses have long been places to discuss and debate ideas where students learn to think outside the box and get out of their comfort zones. This is one of the greatest strengths of the American higher education system.

 

“I’m sure all my colleagues here today agree—colleges can continue to challenge students’ views and perspectives while also doing everything we can to put students’, staff, and faculty’s safety first—and not allow people to incite or invoke violence under the guise of free speech.

 

“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how colleges and universities can do more to both speak out against hate speech on their campuses and to protect free speech.

 

“By beginning this conversation, we can start to once again push hate groups back into the margins of society, combat the resurgence of extremist ideologies and the violence and hate speech President Trump has enabled.

 

“Thank you.”

 

###