Take Action: Testify for Free Speech Bill

The Bill

House Bill 487 mandates that Universities can not have regulations that restrict speech and assembly more than is necessary to protect normal academic and institutional activities. This bill was filed last session as well, but never made it out to the House floor for debate.

The Issue

At UT-Austin, restrictions on amplified sound effectively block students from holding rallies in various areas of campus during the day. Some restrictions of amplified sound are acceptable (for example, the use of bullhorns in the classroom), and these reasonable restrictions would not be affected by HB 487. However, UT Watch feels that some of the areas currently restricted are perfectly suited to amplified sound (such as the South Mall), and, as such, constitute a restriction on the free speech and assembly rights of students. The university also places prohibitions on published material which are unnecessary for the protection of normal academic and institutional activities, such as requiring that all material "identifies the student organization responsible for its distribution" (UT-Austin Student Organization Manual).

The law applies to all institutions of higher education in Texas, however, and many Texas universities have policies that are much more restrictive than UT-Austin. The University of Houston, for example, restricts all outdoor "expressive activities" (not just amplified sound) to four "free expression areas," two of which must reserved at least ten business days beforehand (UH Student Organization Handbook).

What You Can Do

1. Come to the Higher Education Committee Hearing on Monday, and tell the committee members how you feel about free speech on campus. If representatives think students do not care about their own free speech rights, they will do exactly what they did last session - kill the proposed legislation in committee.

2. E-mail the committee members and urge them to support this legislation. Don't wait!

Talking Points
1. Many Texas universities have very restrictive policies regarding free speech and assembly. The University of Houston, for example, limits all "expressive activity," with or with out the use of amplified sound, to only four "free expression areas."
2. Freedom of speech and assembly is a fundamental American and Texan value, and the legislature has an obligation to protect them. HB 487 would help to ensure that our Universities policies embody our civic values and ideals.
3. Some Universities, such as the UT-Austin, use regulations on amplified sound to unnecessarily curtail student's free assembly rights.
4. Universities should embody the free exchange of ideas. Free speech and assembly are important because they are necessary for universities to fulfill their mission to create informed, engaged, and responsible citizens.
5. Both conservative and liberal groups have had problems regarding free speech at Texas universities. This is not about politics, this is about free speech.

E-mail Higher Education Committee members

Here are the email contact forms for each member of the Higher Education Committee, along with our sample letter to help make speaking out on free speech a quick and easy process.

E-mail Forms
Geanie Morrison
Tony Goolsby
Fred Brown
Glenda Dawson
Pete Gallego
Helen Giddings
Linda Harper-Brown
Jesse Jones
Patrick M. Rose

Sample Letter
Although original letters are better, feel free to copy and paste!

Dear Representative (insert representative's last name),

I am writing to urge you to support HB 487, which says that a "governing board of an institution of higher education of the time, place, and manner of speech and assembly may not be more restrictive than necessary to protect normal academic and institutional activities."

Unfortunately, groups from both sides of the political spectrum have had problems regard free speech and assembly at Texas universities. At UT-Austin, students are forbidden from using amplified sound on the South Mall, which would be ideal for rallies and other student activities. The situation is even worse at other Texas Universities. The University of Houston, for example, relegates all expressive activities, with or without amplified sound, to four "free expression areas." This effectively makes the rest of campus a "censorship zone."

These and countless other such restrictions are unacceptable for state universities that should take the free exchange of ideas and civic engagement as fundamental values. Although some regulations, such as forbidding bullhorns in classrooms, are both reasonable and necessary, many of the policies that Texas universities enforce do not fall into either category.

HB 487 would help to make sure that school policies promote the freedom of expression, rather than unnecessarily hinder them. Please do everything you can to ensure that this bill is passed.

Thank you for your time.

(Your name here)

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