Rep. Daniel defends ISIS free speech comments

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican lawmaker on Thursday defended his comments that free speech rights on Tennessee college campuses should apply to everyone — even recruiters for the Islamic State group.

State Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville said on the floor of the state House that he supports First Amendment rights for people and groups regardless of whether he agrees with their aims.

“I will never apologize for defending the First Amendment,” he said. “I will always cloak myself in it, and defend others’ right to speak.”

Daniel had been challenged about the impact of his proposed “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act” in a committee hearing a day earlier. Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis had asked whether it would go so far as to allow people to stand in the middle of campus and “recruit for ISIS.”

Daniel responded that it would.

“So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus, yes sir,” he said. “They can recruit people for any other organization, too, or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”

Following Daniel’s comments, Chairman Mark White, R-Memphis, abruptly moved to have the bill removed from consideration for the year.

Daniel’s bill is part of a larger effort by GOP lawmakers to rein in what they call overzealous diversity initiatives at the University of Tennessee’s flagship Knoxville campus. Some officials there have encouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns and advised against religious-themed holiday parties. The school later rescinded both initiatives.

The University of Tennessee also drew the ire of religious conservatives for banning John McGlone of Breeding, Kentucky, from preaching on campus in 2010 because he had not gained authorization from the school.

McGlone sued, and the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found the policies to be vague and open to discrimination. The university subsequently enacted new policies requiring outside speakers to be invited to campus.

Daniel’s bill would have banned schools from adopting policies to “suppress debate or deliberation because the ideas being debated or deliberated upon are considered to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong.”

Deberry said Daniel’s bill would have gone too far.

“You can’t have a nation and keep it safe and keep it sane unless there are some rules and some norms,” he said.

Note: Previous post HERE.

Rep. Daniel also sent a statement to media. Here ’tis:
Representative Martin Daniel’s Statement on Student Freedom of Speech
“I would like to clarify my comments made yesterday before the House Education Administration Committee.

“I fundamentally disagree with ISIS’s philosophy and I unequivocally condemn their abhorrent, cruel, inhuman acts of terror and violence. That said, the unavoidable fact is that the First Amendment guarantees us the right to express any opinion, including opinions that most of us find repugnant and fundamentally wrong, so long as they don’t cause an imminent risk of harm. To make it clear, there’s a big difference between saying that someone has a right to speak, and agreeing or disagreeing with the content of that speech.

“Frankly, simple recruitment efforts by any organization, standing alone, might be protected by the First Amendment. However, offering material support, including one’s service, to a terrorist organization is forbidden by the United States Patriot Act of 2001. Joining ISIS (offering one’s service to a terrorist organization) is illegal, on college campuses or anywhere else in the United States.

“Furthermore, although clearly I believe that free speech should generally be protected, if such speech should cross the line so that it becomes an imminent threat to someone, including our country, that would NOT be protected speech (see Brandenburg v Ohio, a Supreme Court opinion from 1969, in which the Supreme Court held that only speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is prohibitable).

“I realize these comments may not be satisfactory to some, who may question how I could defend the right to free speech of supporters of a cruel and evil organization like ISIS. Granted, I firmly believe that ISIS is despicable and evil, and I am confident that the vast majority of people with any sense of human decency will agree as well.

“I am sure that each of us holds many opinions that someone, somewhere, would find wrong or offensive. My point is that if we weaken the First Amendment by making its protection selective, based on what is currently viewed as evil or inappropriate, we are weakening its ability to protect us all.

“Opponents of my Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act, by bringing up an unrelated hypothetical situation of ISIS recruiting on campus, have intentionally distracted from the point of my bill, which is to guarantee all students the right to express themselves on college campuses, whether their opinions are considered open-minded, closed-minded, religious, non-religious, anti-religious, brilliant, stupid, progressive, or offensive.

“I am seeing liberal college administrators impose their views of what is right and proper speech on conservative students who feel uncomfortable in disagreement. I am trying to remedy that problem. ALL students should have the right to express their opinions, and that is what this bill is about.

“In conclusion, speech advocating violence is not and should not be legally protected. The remedy for objectionable, disagreeable non-violent speech is not silence or suppression of speech – it is more speech.”