Mississippi’s Free Speech Confusion

Some lawmakers in Mississippi, obviously alarmed at the violent demonstrations and restrictive measures at college campuses intended to silence what passes for conservative viewpoints, have come up what they consider a fitting solution in their legislative kitchen, House Bill 1562, ‘Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act’.  But the result is far from enticing.

The heart of the bill is found in Sections 3 & 4:

SECTION 3.  Expressive activities protected under the provisions of this act include, but are not limited to, any lawful verbal, written, audio-visual or electronic means by which individuals may communicate ideas to one another, including all forms of peaceful assembly, protests, speeches and guest speakers, distribution of literature, carrying signs and circulating petitions.

SECTION 4.  The outdoor areas of campuses of state institutions of higher learning in this state shall be deemed public forums for the campus community, and state institutions of higher learning shall not create “free speech zones” or other designated areas of campus outside of which expressive activities are prohibited. 

What’s wrong with preventing free speech zones, allowing ‘individuals to communicate ideas to one another’, and the like?  Don’t we need to push back against the Lefties on college campuses?  We will return to this thread later, for there is something else that needs to be addressed about this bill first, that something being the complete subversion of federalism in Mississippi. 

The authors of the bill show their disdain for Mississippi as a self-subsisting State by basing their legal claims about freedom of speech, etc. on First Amendment grounds (mentioned three times in the bill), i.e., the First Amendment of the [u]nited States Constitution, not the Constitution of the State of Mississippi.  But that amendment clearly applies only to the Congress in Washington City, not to the folks in the House and Senate in Jackson, Miss.  There is not a single reference made in HB 1562 to Mississippi’s own free speech provision, found in Article 3, Section 13, of the State Constitution, which would the proper basis for a bill of this kind, since States have jurisdiction over their internal matters, not the federal government.

That is remarkable, and dangerous, for it places Mississippi ever more completely under the direct authority of Washington City, even going so far as to waive their Eleventh Amendment immunity so as to be sued in federal court for violations of a STATE law (Section 12 of the bill).  They are thus stamping out what is left of their existence as a unique political entity by making themselves nothing more than an appendage of the federal apparatus (a thing which was created by the States to be their helper, not their master; so much for fanciful schemes of divided sovereignty, etc.) – and they are doing this voluntarily.  Who needs Lincoln and Grant, Bush and Obama, et al., to do the subjugating with State lawmakers like these?

That said, this is the same Mississippi that declared in its Constitution (Section 7),

The right to withdraw from the Federal Union on account of any real or supposed grievance, shall never be assumed by this state, nor shall any law be passed in derogation of the paramount allegiance of the citizens of this state to the government of the United States.

Thus, there appears to be quite a bit of Stockholm Syndrome present in Mississippi, a greatly misplaced loyalty in the souls of her people, which needs to be overcome but that nartheless may explain the cock-eyed constitutional reasoning found in HB 1562.

Having said a bit about that now, we will return to the question we left earlier:  Is not free speech a praiseworthy thing to have on college campuses?  Are they not supposed to be places of free inquiry, exchange of ideas, etc.?  To a large degree, we would answer no.  Any institution exists to pass on a tradition to those who become a part of it.  If the main activity of students on college campuses in Mississippi or anywhere else becomes the non-stop questioning and debating and protesting of every teaching and belief received in life, that will impart only one thing:  nihilism, that every man is a law unto himself.  Wise old Aristophanes’s play The Clouds is a perfectly good warning to us about this:  Strepsiades hands his son Phidippides over to the philosophers, who teach him to question all the ancient teachings of their land, and the result is that Phidippides becomes an atheist who advocates that children should beat their parents.

To make colleges nothing but places of protest and agitation is a sign of a decrepit Christendom.  Dr William Wilson in discussing Basil Gildersleeve once said that at some point questioning must cease and a creed be accepted.  Mississippi’s colleges and those across the South are in much more need of a creed, of the Truth, than promoting verbal clashes amongst students.  If Southern institutions of higher education are not willing to teach the truth, to pass on a tradition that amounts to more than nihilism (or its near of kin, utilitarian Chamber of Commerce-approved STEM programs and the like), it is probably better to dissolve them than to submit the young to their destructive influences.  Students and professors and guest speakers shouting at each other about whose pet ideology is better is no safeguard against them.

Anyone who has spent time in a kitchen knows that a half-baked dish will likely make him sick if he eats it.  Mississippi’s House Bill 1562 is just such a thing.  If it passes in its current form, no one should be surprised if the current political/cultural illness worsens all across that State.

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