Two state legislators invited to White House as Trump expected to sign executive order about free speech on college campuses
Two Oklahoma lawmakers plan to visit the White House this week to discuss First Amendment rights on college campuses.
State Sen. Julie Daniels and State Rep. Mark Lepak will travel to Washington on Thursday to hear President Donald Trump speak about protecting “free speech” on college campuses.
The two legislators co-authored Senate Bill 361 that would require Oklahoma’s public universities, colleges and career technology institutions to take action to protect students’ rights to free speech on campus.
Daniels, R-Bartlesville, and Lepak, R-Claremore, were invited to the White House because of their work on the measure.
Daniels said she feels that free speech rights are disappearing across college campuses nationally.
“It’s the proverbial frog in the pot of cold water,” Daniels said. “You may not realize you are eroding your rights but the damage might already be done.”
Trump is expected to sign an executive order during the meeting on Thursday to help guarantee those rights. During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in early March, Trump promised to hit universities in their pocketbooks if they violated the First Amendment and “require colleges to support free speech if they want federal research” money.
Trump used a recent example of Hayden Williams, who was physically attacked in late February while promoting a conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley.
“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many great young people, and old people, to speak,” Trump said.
Oklahoma is among several states taking legislative action to protect First Amendment rights on campus. Arkansas and Kentucky both passed a similar bills this year, while proposed legislation has been offered in Texas and South Carolina.
Oklahoma's SB 361, which is still alive in the House, states that colleges and universities cannot prohibit free speech in public areas and that those public areas of campus will be available for scheduled, organized or spontaneous free expression by members of the campus community but that administrators may set reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on free speech activities.
Critics of the proposal believe the order would be a slippery slope that could create free speech problems of its own as it would be a government body deciding what violates free speech and what doesn’t.
The week before Daniels and Lepak presented the bill, two students at the University of Oklahoma were embroiled in a public scandal after they donned blackface and said racial slurs on social media.
Daniels said she condemned that behavior and believes if her bill had been been discussed beforehand that the women involved, who later left the university, might have thought twice about their actions.
“We are not teaching what free speech means and how to properly conduct it,” Daniels said. “We are airing on the side of safety, security and people’s feelings.”