The Georgia Baptist Mission Board supports the passage of Senate Bill 339, the “Campus Free Speech Act.” Georgia Baptists represent approximately 1.3 million Georgians in 3,600 churches. We are also represented on over 50 college campuses throughout the state through our Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Our campus ministers are there to provide ministry opportunities to meet the needs of students, for students to fellowship with one another, and to help them grow spiritually while getting an education.
I shouldn’t have to convince anyone here that college campuses today are largely becoming more and more intolerant to those students who do not align themselves with the more politically correct views of our secular culture. Campuses that once were known for very tolerant views on free speech and discussions are now becoming more and more intolerant and restrictive. We believe that a student’s First Amendment rights are not dropped at the door when they enter our government schools of higher learning.
Therefore, we think that it is good to have policies in place that add that extra assurance that all students will enjoy the highest free speech protection allowed under the U.S. Constitution. We have nothing to fear from allowing our students the right to peacefully express themselves regarding what they believe and to hear opposing viewpoints. This is one of the beauties of living in a free society and under a constitution such as ours.
Our colleges and universities should be required to remain neutral on an institutional level regarding issues of public controversy and their policies should encourage intelligent civil discourse on all types of topics that will help students mature into knowledgeable, responsible individuals capable of maintaining a self-governing nation. We also believe that SB 339 is good because it will require the school’s policies to strongly affirm the importance of free expression, nullifying any existing restrictive speech codes in the process, and showing our students the value of respecting the rights of their fellow students. Just these points alone are reasons enough to pass the legislation.
You see, one of the last things we need on our campuses is the perception, or the reality, that our administrations have become “thought” police! Creating an atmosphere where different opinions and faith traditions are not welcome is something we must prevent. If our college students experience an atmosphere that chills their First Amendment rights or they see that some students enjoy more favor with the administration than others due to their beliefs, our young people may very well come to believe that the First Amendment does not protect freedom of speech that fails to conform to the views of those in positions of authority.
The Mission Board would like to thank Senator William Ligon for calling attention to the need to protect free speech on our higher education campuses and for offering this reasonable solution that provides needed assurances for our students and legal clarity for our colleges and universities.