Missouri House passes bill that could limit faculty free speech in the classroom

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri House gave its approval to a bill that could curtail faculty free speech on Wednesday, April 25.

Most of the provisions in the bill deal with ensuring college campuses don’t limit students’ free speech. It states that all parts of a public school’s grounds are open to free speech, and it denies institutions the ability to limit free speech to certain areas.

However, the bill, HB 576, states that university faculty should be “cautious in expressing personal views in the classroom.”

“Faculty should be careful not to introduce matters that have no relationship to the subject taught, especially matters in which they have no special competence or training,” the proposed bill states.

It adds that a teacher will not face discipline for speech unless it’s not reasonably related to the class and doesn’t take up a large amount of time.

Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth said he’s concerned this could lead to lawsuits against faculty members for expressing personal beliefs.

“Aren’t we creating a whole bunch of separation of church and state lawsuits or infringement of free speech lawsuits if a teacher is talking about their Christianity?” Merideth said.

The bill’s sponser, Republican Rep. Dean Dohrman, disagreed with Merideth’s interpretation of the bill, saying a faculty member can’t be fired for simply mentioning their religions or political affiliations in class.

The bill also forbids institutions from disinviting a speaker because of the viewpoint or anticipated content of the speaker’s presentation unless there’s a lawful reason.

The bill has been submitted to Fiscal Review.

Information from the Missouri School of Journalism contributed to this report.

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