This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
When lawmakers in one progressive state learned a conservative commentator had spoken at a college, they demanded officials at the school protect "trans and queer" students from "psychological damage" they would suffer from hearing someone else's opinion. And the free speech advocates at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression responded.
They wrote, in a letter to New Mexico State University, that censoring speakers like conservative commentator Matt Walsh would violate the First Amendment.
According to a report from The FIRE, the letter from state lawmakers and others insisted that the school "infringe on students' First Amendment right to invite speakers that may make other students uncomfortable."
Or cause them "emotional and psychological damage."
The fight blew up after Walsh's speech at NMSU earlier this year.
"Dubbing himself as 'Transphobe of the Year,' Walsh makes no bones about his beliefs. But as a public institution, NMSU is bound by the First Amendment. This means it can’t take the advice of state legislators in enacting policies that discriminate based on viewpoint," the foundation warned the school.
"Higher education has long received protection as the place to hash out challenging or dissenting ideas and engage with new arguments. The Supreme Court proclaimed as much in 1967’s Keyishian v. Board of Regents, noting '[t]he Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth ‘out of a multitude of tongues, [rather] than through any kind of authoritative selection.'"
The foundation report said students are "fully capable of choosing whether to engage with views with which they disagree and even find repulsive. Denying them the chance is not permissible for a public institution such as NMSU."
The letter to the school said, "Importantly, the legislators here should know the very same expressive rights they seek to limit have been employed time and again to protect pro-LGBTQIA+ speech, which at one time was considered fringe expression, viewed as 'shocking and offensive.'"
The foundation explained, "In the higher-education context, speech will not constitute harassment unless it is unwelcome, sufficiently targeted, and so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively deprives the victim-students of their ability to receive an education."
The lawmakers, including Carrie Hamblen, Angelica Rubio, William Soules, Kasandra Gandara, and others, demanded, "We would welcome a serious conversation about the rationale for allowing this type of event (the Walsh appearance) that would knowingly frighten and harm part of the student population, learn who in the administration supported this, and what policies or actions will be taken in the future to prevent further emotional and psychological damage to some of the most vulnerable in your student population."
Nonsense, the foundation wrote.
"Were the university to censor speakers as the legislators suggest, it would violate the First Amendment, which bars government actors like NMSU from interfering with students’ right to discuss, listen to, or invite to campus speakers with a wide range of viewpoints—even when those views offend some, many, or even most members of the university community. The Supreme Court has repeatedly, consistently, and clearly held that the First Amendment protects expression others find offensive, or even hateful, precisely because, '[a]s a Nation we have chosen . . . to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.' While the First Amendment, of course, does not protect all speech, carveouts for unprotected speech are strictly limited. The legislators here are mistaken to suggest that an invited speaker like Walsh who expresses broadly anti-queer or anti-trans views—even while those views may be deeply offensive…"