Ranking Member Opening Statement at Campus Free Speech Hearing

“The real threat to the First Amendment is MAGA Republicans’ extreme education agenda.”

WASHINGTON – Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03) delivered the following opening statement at today’s Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee hearing.

“Thank you, Chairman Owens, and good morning. 

“We can all agree that free speech is a constitutional right and bedrock of our democracy. And, for decades, colleges and universities have been on the front lines of protecting and advancing that right.

“But the Majority is not interested in protecting all speech.  Instead, today’s hearing is an example of MAGA Republicans hijacking our shared value of free speech and waging a one-sided campaign to protect conservative speech.

“MAGA Republicans and the far-right news media are peddling empty catchphrases like ‘cancel culture’ and ‘woke’ to fuel mass hysteria around an alleged conspiracy by institutions to degrade conservative free speech.

“This deliberately hides the real, current threat to free speech on campuses today—that is Republican politicians’ censorship of college curriculum.

“For example, new laws in Mississippi, South Dakota, and Florida censor how public colleges can teach about racial injustice.

“A new law in Tennessee bans public colleges from including ideas about race and sex in any seminar, training, or workshop.

“And a new Florida proposal would ban majors and minors related to race, gender, and intersectionality studies at public colleges. It also bans any initiatives—such as brining a speaker to campus—related to diversity, equity, or inclusion.

“It is particularly rich that, today, Committee Republicans say they are concerned about ‘diversity of thought’ and ‘free speech’ when, just last week, House Republicans passed legislation to ban books and censor curriculum in K-12 schools—actions that are contrary to our core democratic principles.

“I’ll say it again: the real threat to the First Amendment is MAGA Republicans’ extreme education agenda.

“Regrettably, as Republican leaders in red states increasingly censor speech and learning, incidents of harassment towards marginalized student groups have also increased.  In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League recorded 630 incidents of white supremacist activity on college campuses.

“In other words, Republican politicians are weaponizing the First Amendment to turn back the clock on our higher education system, defend only conservative speech, and undermine support for the students who are most in need.

“And when these marginalized students—who are rightfully fearful about their safety and security—petition their college administrators for help, they are often met with inaction.  The First Amendment is not an excuse for inaction. 

“Our schools have duties under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in “any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  

“In fact, the Department of Education has illustrated how a college or university can live up to both its requirements under the First Amendment and under Title VI, saying—and I quote: 'The fact that discriminatory harassment involves speech, however, does not relieve the school of its obligation to respond if the speech contributes to a hostile environment. Schools can protect students from such harassment without running afoul of students’ and staff First Amendment right…’

“Simply put, we can uphold the Constitution while also protecting the safety of our students. 

“While Republican politicians waste valuable time on political theatre and culture wars, Democrats are continuing to build on the victories we have achieved alongside the Biden-Harris administration to meaningfully support students and families.

“For example, last Congress, Democrats passed—without a single Republican vote in the House or Senate—the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided institutions of higher education with dedicated funding to help students avoid hunger and homelessness, and other hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This Congress, Committee Democrats reintroduced the Lowering Obstacles to Achievement Now (LOAN) Act, which would help address the gaps in our flawed student loan system to reduce the need for students to take out crushing student loans and support current and future borrowers.

“I hope my colleagues will join Democrats in addressing the real challenges facing students and families and rejecting Republicans’ dangerous crusade against academic freedom.”


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