Guest Columnist

House passes Campus Free Speech Act


Nathan Chaplin, right, of Stockport First Christian Church visits Rep. Jeff Shipley at the capitol. Shipley thanked Chaplin for “offering his prayerful support.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF SHIPLEY Nathan Chaplin, right, of Stockport First Christian Church visits Rep. Jeff Shipley at the capitol. Shipley thanked Chaplin for “offering his prayerful support.”

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” — Voltaire (made famous by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1908)

The Iowa House of Representatives passed SF274, the Campus Free Speech Act, which relates to free expression and demonstrations on University campuses.

Higher learning institutions were once places that celebrated the free exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, that has changed in recent years.

Free speech zones, arbitrary restrictions on student funded groups, banning of speakers, and the removal of political signs have all become standard practice on university campuses, including here in Iowa.

Worse yet, an alarming number of young students have begun advocating violence to silence those with which they disagree. This is a very disturbing trend that must be reversed.

Free speech is simply what exists in the absence of violence.

SF274 is a straightforward bill that prohibits Public Universities and Community Colleges from adopting speech codes that violate the First Amendment. Schools are required to add policies acknowledging intellectual freedom and free expression.

In response to a failed, unconstitutional policy at the University of Iowa, language in the bill explicitly extends the First Amendment protection of “free association” to student groups.

The bill also prevents a campus from having limited free speech zones in outdoor areas. Even with the legislation, universities and colleges can still implement reasonable time, place and manner restrictions to activities, including assemblies, protests, speeches, petitions and recordings.

This is an issue I’ve followed closely since my own experience being stifled by bureaucracy at the University of Iowa, hence, I was motivated to vocalize my support of this measure on the House floor.

I am still of the opinion that there is more work to do on this topic. Academic freedom remains under serious attack. There is also a frightening trend where instead of encouraging freethinking, colleges believe it’s their job to dictate thoughts, expression and ideology on campus.

Second Amendment: Strict Scrutiny

“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun”

— Mao Zedong, first spoken at an emergency meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, August 7, 1927

Probably no political topic today is as misunderstood as the 2nd Amendment. The genius of the American political system is that the power belongs to the people.

At the time of our nation’s founding, it was well understood that the nobles and kings of Old World Europe would deprive their peasants of arms. This is because it’s much more difficult to rule over peasants and serfs if they have means to challenge your power.

Prohibiting peasants from owning weapons ensures their servitude. Being proficient in arms is reserved only for sovereigns. Hence, the 2nd Amendment acts a safeguard to protect the people from tyranny. This idea shows itself often throughout history.

When Mohandas Gandhi advocated for Indian support of the British Empire during the First World War, one of his objectives was for Indians to receive military training, believing that bearing arms would help prove their worthiness of self-government.

This principle is also seen in the aftermath of the Civil War and over the civil rights movement. Freedmen were denied their 2nd Amendment rights, culminating in the passage of the 14th Amendment. Many gun control laws have been rooted in political control of minority groups over the course of our history.

Since I am not personally a firearms enthusiast, and because I fervently advocate for non-violence, sometimes people are confused why I maintain the importance of the 2nd Amendment.

Simply put, citizens must be held as equals to their government.

The 2nd Amendment is the difference between citizens exercising self-government or being ruled over as subjects. This concept is uniquely American and sets us apart from the rest of the world. In America, the citizens rule and we are nobody’s peasants.

That’s why I was happy to vote for SJR 18, which would let the voters of Iowa put 2nd Amendment language into the Iowa Constitution. Passing the joint resolution is the first step to amending the constitution. If the next General Assembly that’s seated in 2020 passes the measure again, it would be up to the voters statewide to approve the language in 2022.

The language approved by the House and Senate reads as follows:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Strict scrutiny is the highest standard of judicial review and requires the government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” and be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

Despite the claims of very misleading anti-2nd Amendment groups, in states that have adopted this language, there has been no effect on laws that prevent violent criminals or domestic abusers from owning weapons.

Preventing violence

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)

As a society, we must reject violence in all forms. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go. I’m often dismayed when activists call for registration and confiscation of firearms from private citizens, but don’t think twice about guns in the hands of government.

It’s as if a uniform somehow makes a human immune from malevolence, when history is ripe with examples of precisely the opposite. Psychology experiments also demonstrate the opposite.

In the midst of a crisis, police aren’t always capable of responding. Sometimes they’re unwilling. This was demonstrated during the Parkland tragedy, when a sheriff’s deputy stood outside the school and refused to confront the shooter, allowing the massacre to continue. Few realize this key point: police have no legal obligation to protect citizens.

So there are many vocal activists that are dangerously naive, and their anti-2nd Amendment activism places all of us at risk.

Thankfully, there are citizens that are ready to bear the responsibility. So what is the best way to prevent these heart-wrenching tragedies? There are no easy answers, and I don’t trust anyone who claims to have one.

As the Bible and the law of karma dictates: ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’ (Galatians 6:7)

The sad truth: as horrible as the violence we’ve seen in America is, it’s nothing compared to the violence that America has helped bring to other places in the world. Desperately wanting to end this escalating cycle of violence, I authored a resolution trying to halt the Iowa Air National Guard’s involvement in overseas conflicts. As expected, the urgency of ending our violence abroad falls on deaf ears.

It’s my constant prayer that peaceful individuals can overcome, condemn, and ultimately reject violence in all it’s pernicious manifestations. I hope that’s a prayer we can share together.

— Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) represents District 82 in the Iowa House of Representatives. The district includes Davis and Van Buren counties, and the western two-thirds of Jefferson County, including Fairfield. He can be reached at