Senate Study Bill 1099 advanced out of a Thursday subcommittee. Senator Amy Sinclair chaired the subcommittee.
“Senate Study Bill 1099 is just about protecting the First Amendment rights of individuals, not only to freedom of speech but also their religion and right to assemble with other people who believe like them,” Sinclair said. “It lays out some pretty clear guidelines for colleges and universities that receive state funding to accommodate student groups in the interest of sharing view points and having vibrant, college-based conversations about life and differing opinions and everything that goes along with who you are becoming and who you are as an adult and expressing yourself through your faith, religion, speech and assembly — all those things included in the First amendment.
“It lays out guidelines for colleges not to trample on the First Amendment rights of their individual students.”
It’s a bill that had strong support from social conservatives.
“There’s strong unanimity that free speech is not as free as it should be and the bill is needed,” said Chuck Hurley of The FAMiLY Leader. “It allows student groups to have as their leaders people who believe in the mission and the viewpoint of that group. In other words, that law is needed so that there can’t be a hostile take over of student groups.”
Lance Kinzer of First Amendment Partnership said the bill is necessary and similar legislation has passed in 10 states previously.
“In many instances in a fairly bipartisan fashion,” Kinzer said. “We’ve all seen examples of the kinds of craziness going on on college campuses with not allowing speakers to present their points of view, especially directed towards more conservative points of view. But, of course, it could be applied in other directions too. This bill is designed to make sure standards are put in place and apply equally to everyone.”
Kinzer said Iowa has been ground zero for these issues. Business Leaders in Christ was kicked off campus by the University of Iowa for requiring its leaders to share Christian beliefs. The group won its federal case against the University of Iowa in a ruling last week.
“As the court noted yesterday, saying certain kinds of groups can associate and pick leaders and other groups can’t is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Kinzer said. “The reality is it’s not happening just at the University of Iowa, it’s happening at college campuses across the country.”
The bill, Kinzer said, would basically allow a Baptist student club to say you need to be a Baptist in order to teach Bible studies.
“There’s an attempt to confuse the issue or suggest it’s unequal,” Kinzer said. “This bill, the way it’s drafted now, protects the LGBT club just as much as it protects the conservative evangelical club. The core principle is the First Amendment applies to everyone and should be applied equally.”
So far Sinclair said the bill has received plenty of support.
“Truth be told, most people who live in America and want the American Dream are going to support the ideas and the concepts that are included in here,” she said. “We should not have publicly funded colleges and universities determining what thoughts are available or who students should meet with. They should not interfere in that process at all.”
It’s a bill that shouldn’t be necessary, but is.
“A copy of the Constitution should be enough to make that clear, but we’ve seen not just in Iowa but across the country a need for clear statutory guidance,” Kinzer said. “I think ultimately it is helpful to universities.”
For activists hoping to influence Iowa Senators to support the bill, Sinclair offered this advice.
“Individually they could reach out to the entire education committee or specifically their personal senator, that would help this process along,” Sinclair said. “We hope the House will move along similar language and get it down to the governor’s desk so students can be sure of their right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly as outlined in the First Amendment is protected in the state of Iowa.”
Ultimately, Sinclair is hopeful that this bill can provide the guidance university officials are looking for.
“One of the representatives was quoted in national media saying we want guidance,” she said. “Here’s your guidance. We’re telling you don’t discriminate against student groups. Allow them to assemble as they wish. Allow them to express their ideas and stay out of it.”