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South Dakota Protects Free Speech on Campus


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In light of the Trump administration’s new executive order, more states should follow suit.

Graham Piro

March 25, 2019

When Kyle Hartmann hung an American flag in his South Dakota State University dormitory on September 10 of last year, he was doing more than just commemorating a dark day in American life. “My mom in particular knew five people that passed away on September 11 [2001], including a close family friend,” he told me in a phone interview. When he returned from dinner that night, he saw that the flag had been taken down.

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Stories such as Hartmann’s explain why President Trump signed an executive order last Thursday directing federal agencies to tie federal grants to schools’ records on free speech. Although the measure contains no specific penalties, it sends a signal to the states that the federal government is monitoring the way First Amendment rights are protected on college campuses. When the president announced this order at the Conservative Political Action Conference in early March, he highlighted another story, that of a California student who had been assaulted for working as a recruiter for a conservative group.

But Hartmann’s story also helps explain why South Dakota governor Kristi Noem signed a law last Wednesday to protect free speech on the state’s six public-university campuses. The new law, nearly a year in the making, could serve as an example for other states that want to protect students’ First Amendment rights so that their universities don’t suffer penalties under the administration’s new policy.

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These concerns notwithstanding, South Dakota has taken an important step to defend free speech on its college campuses — especially since President Trump signed his executive order the following day. As Hartmann concluded in his testimony, when it comes to free speech, “policies should be clear and easily understood.” It’s time for more states to protect the many students who have been denied their right to free speech.

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