Policy Summary
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” On March 21, 2019 President Donald J. Trump issued Executive Order 13864 titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.” The stated policy in the order is “to promote free and open debate on college and university campuses.” In order to help implement this stated policy, covered federal agencies shall take appropriate steps to ensure that institutions “foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging and diverse debate” by “compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions.” LEARN MORE

Professor Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School has called President Trump’s executive order duplicative of current law and is nothing more than a symbolic act. Caroline Mala Corbin in an opinion piece in the Washington Post said that the order creates no new protections for campus speech and simply restates a college or universities’ current obligation under federal law. So why did President Trump go to all the trouble to put forth an executive order that he himself called a historic act?

This executive order is an attempt to re-frame the narrative and push the story that there is a crisis on college campuses regarding free speech and to appeal to President Trump’s conservative and religious voter base. Jeffrey Adam Sachs issued a report from the Niskanen Center that studied the claims of a free speech crisis on college campuses and found that the evidence does not support the claim. Instead it found that there was no statistical difference in older and younger generations when it analyzed and examined their support for free speech. What is likely at play here is President Trump trying to incite his conservative and religious fanbase that their ideas are under attack from left – leaning forces in society, most notably institutions of higher learning. However, his use of free speech to court this voter base comes fraught with other complexities as many of the private and Christian education institutions he caters to have been some of the most frequent violators of the Free Speech Clause under the First Amendment. Jerry Falwell, Jr. of Liberty University has had a number of incidents where his actions have raised eyebrows as to whether he truly supports free speech on campus and censorship issues with the student newspaper. Mr. Falwell is a staunch supporter of President Trump and seems to have influenced the President that conservative ideas are being attacked on college campuses. But this is simply not the case as studies have shown. The executive order that the President signed is nothing more than a weak attempt to give religious universities a rallying cry for ideas that may not be in the mainstream of American society. The idea of pushing, promoting and protecting the idea of free speech on college campuses is a noble goal. It would have been better for President Trump to offer real solutions and real change instead of a watered down version that requires colleges and universities to do something that they are already required to do. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

Photo by Srikanta H. U

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