The Mississippi House of Representatives has passed legislation that will help ensure free speech on the state's college and university campuses is preserved. The measure has now gone to the State Senate.
Mississippi Center for Public Policy president Jon Prichett says HB 1200 codifies existing federal case law for Mississippi to avoid expensive litigation for public universities and colleges.
"What we've realized here in Mississippi – and I think about another 20 states have passed these types of campus free-speech protections – is that the First Amendment is getting ignored on campus," Prichett tells OneNewsNow.
In a recent report, MCPP says while free-speech policies at most of Mississippi's universities are "appropriate," that's not the case at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss, says the report, "has a Bias Incident Response Team [BIRT] with highly disturbing implications for freedom of expression and the due process rights of students."
OneNewsNow asked Pritchett if the bill making its way through the Mississippi Legislature (if passed) would force Ole Miss to abolish its BIRT – which MCPP describes as an "unconstitutional."
"There's no specific language about the Bias Incident Response Team per se in the act," he responds. "But it's pretty clear that that's a violation of free-speech rights. We've already contacted the presidents of the universities and made them aware that the Bias Incident Response Team is problematic."
According to the Ole Miss website, the BIRT exists to help resolve "bias-related incidents" – to include such things as threats or acts of intimidation directed at an individual's political affiliation, gender identity, gender/sexual expression, or "potentially other identities or identifiers."
Pritchett adds that the legislation doesn't protect speech that would incite violence or harassment or would effectively disrupt a campus event or classes.