Monday, May 03, 2021
#FREESPEECH in the News May 3, 2021
As the Citadel of Free Speech here in Cleveland, we work to protect and promote the basis of our democracy by sharing related stories, commentary, and opinions on free speech in the 21st century. Here's what's making the news – and what you should know about – in the past week.
An Iowa man charged with leaving a threatening voicemail telling Gov. Kim Reynolds she should be “hung for treason” defended his comments Thursday as free speech, saying he was expressing opposition to COVID-19 restrictions.
Harvey Hunter Jr., 48, is charged with first-degree harassment for the profane Jan. 5 message he left on a governor’s office phone line set up to gather input over whether Reynolds should continue the partial statewide mask mandate. Hunter called the GOP governor a dictator and said “every single one of you need to be hung for treason for pushing this COVID scam,” according to a criminal complaint filed in Polk County. Growing more intense, Hunter called Reynolds two derogatory names for women and said “you need to be put in front of a firing squad,” the complaint said.
Hunter last month turned himself in to face the charge, an aggravated misdemeanor that carries up to two years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney recently filed a motion to take the governor’s deposition in the case. Trial is scheduled for June.
Supporters of a bill with free speech issues in its title focused more on the financial provisions the bill makes toward Ohio’s community colleges and career technical institutions. The bill’s Second Chance Voucher Program was talked about most during a Tuesday hearing on the bill, which members of the Ohio Association for Career Technical Education (OACTE) and the Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) said would be a needed boost to their numbers and those of the Ohio workforce.
In testimony before the Ohio Senate Workforce & Higher Education Committee, OACC president Jack Hershey called the voucher provision “one of the more promising new proposals that we have seen to help increase college attainment, because for the first time it is purposefully targeting and marketing to the more than 1 million Ohioans who have earned some college credit but have not yet earned a certificate or a degree.”
Hershey did not, however, lend his support for a provision of the bill regarding free speech on college campuses. Under the bill, higher ed facilities would be required to adopt a policy affirming “prescribed principles” on free speech, and establish a complaint process for a student, student group or faculty member alleging a violation of free speech. The bill also bars a state institution from entering into or continuing a contract with a services or supplies company “unless the contract declares that the company is not boycotting Israel or other jurisdictions with whom Ohio can enjoy open trade.”
Hershey said the provisions regarding free speech “are confusing at this moment,” especially as implementation is underway for a previous bill passed into law on college and university free speech.
The U.S. Supreme Court justices have agreed to hear Houston Community College System v. Wilson, a case about whether the First Amendment limits a local government’s power to censure its members – here, a member of a community college system’s board of trustees.
The events that gave rise to the case began when David Wilson was elected to the board in 2013. His tenure was not a smooth one; it included accusations that he had leaked confidential information, Wilson’s role in a series of negative robocalls to other trustees’ constituents after the board voted to fund an overseas campus, and four different lawsuits against the system.
When the board publicly censured Wilson, he countered that the censure violated his First Amendment rights and asked for damages. A federal district court threw out his claim, holding that an elected board’s censure of its own members does not violate the First Amendment because it is merely a “statement” of the board’s disapproval. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed, the community college system came to the Supreme Court, which agreed on Monday to weigh in.