When I was the Business Manager and a Senator with the Associated Students of the University of Montana, we treated all student groups equally even if we had disagreements about their missions. However, during my tenure as a University of Montana student, I saw a troubling trend of calls for restricting free speech and association begin to pop up on campuses both nationally and in Montana.
In recent years we have seen free speech restricted to certain zones, harassment of student groups, and efforts to cancel speakers on campuses. While these instances are less common on Montana’s campuses, this growing trend requires us to reaffirm the First Amendment rights of college students to free speech and association at our publicly funded institutions of higher education.
That is why I am sponsoring House Bills 218 and 349 which require Montana’s public colleges and universities to honor their students’ free speech and association rights. Both bills have passed the House and are headed to the Senate.
America’s colleges and universities have a rich history of promoting the free expression of ideas, even if they are unpopular. This is an essential part of the college experience and one of the things that make our institutions of higher education great. Censoring free speech is antithetical to the purpose and long-standing tradition of college campuses.
If House Bills 218 and 349 become law, students will no longer have their free speech relegated to “free speech zones” and student organizations will not fall victim to our modern cancel culture. University administrations have the authority to govern their campuses but they do not have the authority to supersede the constitutional rights of those on their campus. That is why the Legislature also passed House Bill 102 which reaffirms the Second Amendment rights of students and faculty.
As a UM alumnus and State Representative, I will keep fighting for the constitutional rights of Montana students. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, is the Representative for House District 92