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Case of Catholic Student Punished After Expressing Opinion on Gender Goes to Court

Exeter High School Athletic District Bill Ball said the school respects all students.

But the attorney for an Exeter student who was punished for expressing his opinions about gender said the school needs to respect the rule of law.

During the bench trial in Rockingham Superior Court, Ball and Assistant Exeter High School Principal Marcy Dovholuk explained why they punished a Catholic student for what was a private text sent outside of school.

The football coach benched the freshman student for one game in 2021 over a discussion he had with a classmate. He is seeking $1 in damages. He also wants Ball to admit wrongdoing. The student insists he was punished for defending his view that there are only two genders, male and female.

His attorney, Richard Lehmann, told NHJournal Exeter is another example of New Hampshire school districts running roughshod over anyone who disagrees with the new, extreme gender mores.

“It’s bad enough that children are made to feel uncomfortable expressing traditional views on matters related to gender in school,” Lehmann said. “Or when schools announce they will lie to parents about their children’s in-school gender expression, as Manchester, Exeter, and other schools do. But it’s made even worse when schools reach beyond their gates and into children’s private lives and seek to control their behavior at home or in private communications with other kids that happen entirely outside of any context related to the school,” Lehmann said.

Lehamann’s client, John Doe, is using a pseudonym to protect his identity. He has since left Exeter and is enrolled at a Catholic high school. Doe testified he was talking with friends on a bus after school about another student who claimed to be “non-binary” during Spanish class. Doe testified he thought that odd since the Spanish language relies on feminine and masculine genders.

The non-binary student was not involved or aware, of the conversation at the time.

Instead, a female classmate who was not part of the conversation later confronted Doe, insisting that humans come in more than two genders. Doe and this female student then got into a heated conversation, with Doe arguing the mainstream stance that there are two sexes. Doe based this view on both science and his religious beliefs.

The girl texted him later that evening to continue the argument. At one point, Doe told the girl to “STFU,” which he testified was an attempt to be funny.

The next day, Doe was called in by Dovholuk and informed he would be punished for the conversation he had the night before over text. Dovholuk claimed the punishment was for bullying and bad language and not Doe’s beliefs regarding gender.

“At Exeter, we respect people, and we respect how they identify,” Dovholuk reportedly said.

Ball testified he told Doe, “We respect all.”

Lehmann said the United States Supreme Court already ruled that schools cannot punish students for things they say off campus. In June 2021, the High Court ruled against a Pennsylvania high school that suspended cheerleader Brandi Levy for using the f-word in a social media video about the cheer team.

“Three months before the facts of this case arose, the United States Supreme Court dismissed an athletic sanction imposed by a coach because the authority of the athletic department to penalize students for engaging in free speech could only extend to off-campus, non-school activities in rare circumstances,” Lehmann said.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that school districts cannot police students’ speech when they are not in school.

“From the student speaker’s perspective, regulations of off-campus speech, when coupled with regulations of on-campus speech, include all the speech a student utters during the full 24-hour day. That means courts must be more skeptical of a school’s efforts to regulate off-campus speech, for doing so may mean the student cannot engage in that kind of speech at all,” the justices wrote.

The Doe case is now being considered by Judge Andrew Schulman, who is expected to render a verdict in the coming weeks. Doe is doing well at his new school, Lehmann said.

“He is a great kid from a terrific family, and Exeter High School is a lesser place because of his absence.”

UNH 3rd in Free Speech Rankings While Dartmouth Among America’s Worst

Granite State college students enjoy greater freedom of speech at the University of New Hampshire than their peers at the prestigious Ivy League school, Dartmouth College.

The annual college rankings released this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, puts UNH third nationally, trailing only Michigan Tech and Auburn.

UNH President James W. “Jim” Dean Jr. said the school takes its responsibility to foster speech seriously.

“Free speech is one of the most fundamental American constitutional rights. As a public university, UNH protects and promotes this value by ensuring our students can be exposed to new and different ideas that will hopefully inspire growth and intellectual curiosity,” Dean said. “This new report from FIRE validates the work we have done and will continue to do to foster an environment where free speech can flourish.”

Meanwhile, Dartmouth, one of the most exclusive — and expensive — colleges in America, ranks near the bottom: 240 out of 248.

That’s a major drop-off for Dartmouth, which came in at 63 in 2021 and 83 in 2022.

According to data compiled by FIRE, a big reason behind that wide gap is UNH students don’t think it is acceptable to shut down controversial speakers, while Dartmouth students are OK with censorship.

FIRE’s Director of Polling and Analytics, Sean Stevens, said students at elite schools like Dartmouth, Harvard University (248), Northwestern (242), and Georgetown (245) are more inclined to prevent speakers they don’t like from being heard on campus The common denominator is those schools are predominately liberal

“There’s this elite culture to be tolerant, but most of those schools do poorly on the disruptive conduct survey,” Stevens said. 

As part of the review process, students were surveyed about how comfortable they felt speaking about controversial topics on campus and in class. They were also asked if shutting down speakers through protest, disruption, or even violence was ever acceptable.

“As you get more and more liberal on the spectrum (the students) are more likely to say those things are at least rarely acceptable,” Stevens said.

One of the findings: Many college students think shouting down a speaker is acceptable behavior, even at schools that rank highly. At UNH, just 44 percent of students said shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is always unacceptable. 

At Dartmouth, however, that dropped to 26 percent, meaning most students believe in stopping speakers they don’t like. That comes as no surprise to center-right students at Dartmouth. 

Last year, conservative journalist Andy Ngo’s scheduled in-person appearance at Dartmouth was canceled after a deluge of online threats from leftwing opponents. In 2020, more leftist threats of violence forced the cancellation of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Corky Messner’s scheduled speech on the need for border security to halt the flow of opioids into the U.S.

Stevens cited the Ngo and Messner events as reasons for Dartmouth’s poor ranking.

“They can’t undo the disinvitations, but they can do better,” Stevens said.

In contrast, UNH stood by a controversial group over objections from liberal students, Stevens said. In March, students staged a walkout after the Christian Legal Society student group planned a vigil for victims of a Tennessee school shooting. UNH liberal activists accused the Christian group of engaging in anti-transgender hate. The Tennessee shooter identified as transgender.

UNH also announced Wednesday that Dean is retiring as president on June 30, 2024.

Christian Student Orgs Under Fire at UNH Law

A Christian student organization has filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education over alleged unfair treatment on the campus of UNH Law School, largely at the hands of their fellow students who want the group shut down. Another group is facing protests over an email invitation to a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at a Christian school.

It has become part of a larger national debate over the Biden administration’s decision to end a policy protecting religious liberty on campus.

According to the complaint, the Free Exercise Coalition (FEC) was denied official recognition as a student group at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law by the Student Bar Association (SBA) last year. While the group met all the requirements, SBA members attacked its leadership as “hateful bigots,” “oppressors,” and “a problem for the law school.”

The March 23 complaint was filed by First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal organization promoting religious freedom in public spaces. It reports the attacks on FEC students were so heated that “the FEC’s faculty advisor withdrew as advisor following the meeting. As of the date of this letter, the Coalition is still seeking a faculty advisor.”

When the organization’s application for recognition came up again in January, the SBA simply refused to hold a vote. While UNH Law has a range of student organizations, from the Diversity Coalition to Secular Students Alliance to the UNH Law Pond Hockey, the SBA would not even consider the Christian group’s application.

This apparent discrimination created a legal issue for UNH law, and the administration was forced to step in and grant the FEC’s request for recognition. But the trouble didn’t end.

In February, FEC members noted other campus groups were flying flags expressing political messages, such as the Pride flag or the Black Law Student organization’s flag, and asked permission to fly the Christian flag. They were denied and told instead they could post the flag on a “display board” instead, according to the complaint.

“The Free Exercise Coalition merely seeks to be treated like other student groups on campus. Instead, they are held to a different standard and, along with other people of faith in the community, are left feeling ostracized and insulted because of their religious beliefs.”

It’s not just the FEC. UNH Law students marched in protest last week over an email from the school’s Christian Legal Society calling for a vigil in the wake of the March 27 shooting at a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tenn. The invite included details about the attack, noting the school shooter was a transgender person who intentionally targeted Christians.

“Nashville school shooter Audrey Hale identified as transgender and had a detailed manifesto to attack the Christian academy. By all accounts, this terrorist attack on a Christian school was motivated by anti-Christian hate,” the Christian Legal Society invitation stated.

In fact, the contents of Hale’s manifesto or the nine journals police found at Hale’s home have not been publicly disclosed.

The email went on to reference rising violent rhetoric coming from those in, and aligned with, the transgender community, often directed at Christians and used to intimidate people who disagree.

“Unfortunately, these tactics and rhetoric are not isolated to the national conversation. At UNH Law, students and others have similarly maligned Christian students and CLS as bigoted, hateful, or unfit for public recognition or acceptance,” the invitation stated. “If this tragedy was animated by such ideas and rhetoric, there needs to be much soul-searching by those who endorse similar ideas. Giving into these ideas is not compassionate; it is dangerous.”

Some students complained to UNH administrators and urged them to take action against the CLS. When the administration refused, citing First Amendment protections, students staged a walkout, chanting, “UNH stands against hate!”

“These statements were violent, and the university has only had quiet responses up until this point,” said law student Sydney Reyes in the Concord Monitor. “Without recognizing what has been experienced on campus as violent, I don’t think quiet responses are addressing it; it’s time to be loud.”

But in a written response, UNH Law School Dean Megan Carpenter defended the school’s free speech stance.

“As a guiding principle as an institution of higher education, we are committed to the free and open exchange of ideas, active discourse, and critical debate. All members of our community have the right to hold and vigorously defend and promote their opinions,” Carpenter wrote. “The exercise of this right may result in members of the community being exposed to ideas that they consider unorthodox, controversial, or even repugnant.”

Carpenter went on to write that the Christian Legal Society has the right to exist as a recognized entity on campus, though the administration does not necessarily endorse its views. She wrote that students have to learn to live with people with whom they disagree.

“The university and UNH Franklin Pierce honor sexual and gender diversity, and we also support the right for our members to freely express their sincerely held religious beliefs. Sometimes these principles and beliefs will come into opposition,” Carpenter wrote.

The University of New Hampshire has one of the highest rankings in the nation from the free-speech organization FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.)

Still, supporters of religious liberty remained concerned about what they see as an anti-First Amendment ethos on college campuses nationwide. Last month a group of congressional Republicans wrote to the federal Department of Education asking it to end plans to rescind a rule making it easier for faith-based student organizations at public colleges to raise discrimination claims.

The 2020 rule established a hotline where free exercise violations could be reported, and committed the department to act on complaints.

Sununu COVID Policy Protestor Taking Case to State Supreme Court

The only protestor convicted for protesting COVID-19 lockdowns in front of Gov. Chris Sununu’s home is taking his case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Frank Negus Staples, aka Foot Loose, is appealing his conviction on one count of disorderly conduct for his role in the protests outside the homes of Sununu and Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald. He was among nine people arrested during the protests, and the only one convicted.

“We were all found not guilty of ‘picketing,’” Staples said. “I was found guilty of ‘disorderly conduct.’”

NHJournal reporter Chris Maidment was arrested during the protests and charged with picketing, despite identifying himself to authorities as a journalist on assignment. NHJournal earned a First Amendment award from the New Hampshire Press Association for its work on the story, and the charges were dismissed before the case went to trial.

MacDonald, who was New Hampshire’s Attorney General at the time of the protests, has recused himself from the case according to Staples. MacDonald’s Department of Justice was instrumental in creating the picketing ordinance used to charge the protestors.

“Gordon MacDonald has recused himself from the case due to his direct involvement in the creation of the town ‘picketing’ ordinance and how to enforce it,” Staples said.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court accepted Staples’ appeal as part of the dozens of cases accepted in November. A hearing date has not been set.

After Sununu started conducting government business from his home due to the pandemic, opponents of the governor’s COVID-19 policies started protesting in the street outside. Sununu and his neighbors expressed their unhappiness with the crowds of sign-waving demonstrators in their cul-de-sac, but the protestors were on public property.

In response, the town Board of Selectmen, including Sununu’s brother Michael, drafted an anti-picketing ordinance designed to discourage — if not prevent — the protests. Three members of the Sununu administration, including Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn, testified on behalf of the protest ban at a December 8 select board meeting.

The language for the ordinance came directly from the Attorney General’s Office, according to emails obtained by NHJournal.

Concord attorney Seth Hipple, who represented several of the protesters, including Maidment, told NH Journal last year that the government is holding a losing hand.

“The prosecution’s case was a dumpster fire,” Hipple said.

None of the arresting officers were able to individually identify any of the protesters who were charged, and they were unable to specify what actions the protestors took that violated the law, according to Hipple.

Staples, who told NHJournal people do not like it when he gets loud, was a fixture at anti-COVID lockdown protests throughout the pandemic. He was among several people arrested at an Executive Council Meeting last year who were protesting a federal contract to pay for COVID vaccines.

Staples was also the lead protestor at the September 2021 Executive Council meeting that was shut down because of safety concerns.

Staples made statements to New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services employees that they deemed threatening.The employees were unnerved and subsequently escorted to their cars by New Hampshire State Police Troopers. Staples, who was shouting and acting in an aggressive manner through the meeting denies he meant a threat when he shouted “we know where you live” to the DHHS employees.

Staples and several other protestors at the September 2021 Executive Council meeting were investigated by Attorney General John Formella’s office, but no charges were ever brought.

UNH Political Science Department Denies Bias in Leavitt Snub

University of New Hampshire College Democrats seem to be getting help with turnout for their events from the school’s political science department, though its chair denies any bias. 

When the UNH Political Science Department sent out a notice informing students of an upcoming Get Out the Vote rally featuring Democrats Sen. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, College Republican President Carson Hansford took exception.

“I was shocked when I saw the notice,” Hansford said.

The department regularly sends students notices about events on campus featuring political figures. The notices typically state they are not endorsements of any political side, and the department does not sponsor the events in any way. But Hansford said institutional bias seems to be at work.

Last spring, the College Republicans hosted GOP congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt as part of her “Wake up Gen Z College Tour.” Hansford sent an email about the event to the address for the department listed in the school’s directory. He never heard back. The department never sent a notice to students about the Leavitt appearance he said.

“I had not received an email in reply, so I had forgotten about it and had assumed that the department did not want to advertise anything that was political,” Hansford said. “Yesterday … the political science department sent an email advertising Sen. Hassan and Sen. Warren coming to campus on Friday for a GOTV (get out the vote) event, even sending out the Democrat’s link to sign up for it.”

Hansford said there is a general liberal bias on campus among students, and that he and his fellow College Republicans deal with regular snarky comments when they hold public events.

“People say to us we’re the worst thing ever, things along those lines,” Hansford said.

Jeannie Sowers

Jeannie Sowers, the department chair, told NH Journal the issue of the notices from her department is not a story, and that Hansford was wrong to speak to the media about his concerns.

“I do not appreciate students reaching out to the media and trying to create a controversy where none exists,” Sowers said.

When asked about the Leavitt event, Sowers feigned ignorance.

“I do not know who that is,” Sowers said of the GOP rising star who is facing off against Rep. Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, in next week’s closely watched election with national implications.

Sowers said the department has a rule not to send out notices about people who are merely candidates and instead focuses on sitting elected officials regardless of party.

“Sitting elected officials are more likely to get notice,” Sowers said.

Sowers faulted Hansford for not reaching out to the department with his concerns and cast doubt on whether he ever sent the department a notice about his event. She also suggested Hansford may have requested some type of sponsorship from the department for the event, which would have been against policy.

Hansford, a political science undergrad, said he did not ask for any kind of endorsement or sponsorship. As for the distinction about sitting elected officials getting priority over candidates, Hansford said the department sent out notices about Democratic presidential candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Bernie Sanders during the presidential primary season.

UNH is ranked 16th in the nation for free speech on campus by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), but that was down from 3rd just a year earlier.  Katelyn Regan, head of the UNH Students for Life chapter, recently told NH Journal her pro-life organization has been subject to threats and intimidation on campus, mostly from pro-abortion students.

“We have had the police called on us a bunch of times,” Regan said.

Leavitt has run into stumbling blocks on New Hampshire campuses throughout her campaign. Last summer, Southern New Hampshire University imposed restrictions on the audience for an appearance by Leavitt hosted by the campus College Republicans. The administration acknowledged it singled out Leavitt for being “controversial.”

“Our policies are compliant with both state and federal laws and allow for the free flow of information and ideas while ensuring campus safety,” said SNHU spokesperson Siobhan Lopez.

Dartmouth Drops in Campus Free Speech Rankings — Again

Dartmouth College’s standing as a campus that supports diversity of opinion and expression fell again this year, down 20 places in the newest ranking of campus free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

Earlier this month, FIRE released its findings from “the largest survey on student free expression ever conducted.”

“That so many students are self-silencing and silencing each other is an indictment of campus culture,” said FIRE Senior Research Fellow Sean Stevens. “How can students develop their distinct voices and ideas in college if they’re too afraid to engage with each other?”

Or, as the report concluded, “Sayonara, debate and disagreement; hello, campus kumbaya.”

New Hampshire’s Ivy League school pulled a Gentleman’s C in last year’s ranking, coming in at number 63 in the nation. But this year, Dartmouth dropped even lower, to number 83 — below the state universities of Idaho, Indiana, and Alabama.

And while the University of New Hampshire fares far better at number 16, which was a drop from number three last year.

“The University of New Hampshire remains steadfast in its commitment to the principles of free speech and academic freedom and are pleased to know FIRE recognizes our work to protect these freedoms while encouraging openness and civility,” said Erika Mantz, executive director for UNH Media Relations.

FIRE reports college students and faculty at schools across the country face extreme challenges to the free expression of ideas.

“Alarming proportions of students self-censor, report worry or discomfort about expressing their ideas in a variety of contexts, find controversial ideas hard to discuss, show intolerance for controversial speakers, find their administrations unclear or worse regarding support for free speech, and even report that disruption of events or violence are, to some degree, acceptable tactics for shutting down the speech of others,” the report states.

Dartmouth’s administration did not respond to a request for comment, but students who anonymously reported to FIRE say the school campus is ruled by “mob mentality” and students live in ideological echo chambers. According to FIRE, for every one conservative student, there are roughly 4.3 liberal students.

“Mob mentality situations occur all the time in a small campus like Dartmouth. From minimal things to huge issues, there is a main way of thinking that if you do not conform to, you are alienated,” one student said.

Another student said they feel uncomfortable confronting the racism they experience at the school.

“I am a person of color who often has to hear White people make comments that come off as tone deaf or performative and I do not feel comfortable saying something about it,” the student said.

One student told FIRE they are unable to express their support for the nation of Israel due to fears over anti-semitism.

“Sometimes feel stigma against saying that I support Israel. People paint it as being against human rights and I’ve personally seen antisemitism attached to the subject occur on college campuses,” the student said.

According to FIRE’s report, only 27 percent of Dartmouth students say shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is never acceptable. At UNH, that number is 44 percent. Both represent a minority of students.

FIRE’s Vice President of Research, Adam Goldstein, said schools need to set the example early in the school year that free speech is the norm on campus.

“FIRE’s top-ranked school, the University of Chicago, starts by sending letters to incoming students explaining the value of free expression,” Goldstein said. “Reinforcing those messages through orientation programs and official policy statements makes sure the message lands. Reforming any anti-speech policies, like restrictive protest or internet use policies, will show students that the administration is walking the walk. And FIRE is ready to help with all of that.”

FIRE got involved at Dartmouth last year after allied threats of protestors shut down a planned speech by conservative speaker Andy Ngo at Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth canceled the Jan. 20 event hosted by the campus chapters of the College Republicans, Turning Point USA, and Network of Enlightened Women, forcing it online because of unspecified “concerning information” from the Hanover police.

However, documents obtained by both NH Journal and FIRE indicate police never thought that the planned protest presented a credible threat.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis told FIRE in a letter that his department “did not make a recommendation to Dartmouth College regarding the January 20th event.”

Dartmouth responded to the controversy by charging the Dartmouth College Republicans Club a $3,600 security bill.

Goldstein said students should know they have options to protect their speech, and that FIRE will help.

“Students who feel their rights aren’t being respected can call FIRE for help–that’s the easy answer here and it’s never the wrong answer because even if we can’t help in a specific situation, we might have some ideas about who can. But generally speaking, the first step is going to be to go to the administrator, board, or student group that’s not respecting those rights and ask them to reconsider,” he said. “Most speech restraints are created by well-intentioned people focused on something other than freedom of speech and bringing speech to their attention can go a long way.”

SNHU Restricts Audience for Leavitt Appearance, Insists on Right to Reject ‘Controversial’ Speakers

Republican congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt had a limited audience when she spoke at Southern New Hampshire University after school administrators ordered the event to be limited to students only.

Ky Urban, president of the SNHU College Republican Club, said he first learned about the policy to limit or exclude what the school deems “controversial” speakers when he asked about hosting an event featuring the First Congressional District GOP candidate.

“We were just hoping to line up our speakers for the next academic year. We would like to bring candidates, politicians, and people who lecture on topics that are of interest to conservatives,” Urban said. “We were first made aware of this ‘controversial speakers’ policy when we were trying to host Karoline Leavitt who is running for U.S. Congress in CD-1. The administration eventually let us host an event with her. But they limited it to SNHU students only, which reduced the number of people who could attend,” Urban said.

Urban was told that the university must substantively review and approve all proposed speakers to ensure they “are not so controversial that they would draw unwanted demonstrators” to campus. The university explained it “invite[s] discussion as long as it is friendly.”

Rather than allowing the general public to attend, as is commonly the practice for speakers of public interest, the campus GOP was ordered to limit the invitation to students only. As a result, the administration has the power to restrict who is allowed to speak on campus and who is allowed to hear them.

Leavitt blamed the liberal culture in higher education that seeks to minimize or silence conservative voices.

“All across America, college campuses are silencing conservatives for fear of backlash from their overwhelming liberal student body. To prevent outcry from their students, college administrations have devised various ways to ensure their monolithic brainwashing programs operate free of dissension. The only way we will disrupt their indoctrination of our youth is by challenging the status quo, which I will continue to do when given the opportunity,” Leavitt said.

The policy of reviewing invited speakers caught the attention of free-speech organization, FIRE — the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression — which has criticized the school and demanded it change its practices.

“When university officials determine which views are worth sharing, as SNHU administrators claim the authority to do here, students and faculty will invite fewer speakers to campus. In turn, fewer controversial and non-controversial speakers will come, and fewer viewpoints will be shared, all to the detriment of the campus community,” said FIRE’s Sabrina Conza.

SNHU’s Siobhan Lopez, assistant director of media relations, said the school is committed to the free exchange of ideas, so long as there is order on campus.

“Southern New Hampshire University seeks to promote and facilitate the exchange of innovative and diverse ideas, and we welcome speakers with a broad range of viewpoints and backgrounds to foster a diverse and rich educational experience for members of the university community. Our policies are compliant with both state and federal laws and allow for the free flow of information and ideas while ensuring campus safety,” Lopez said.

Urban said the way the policy is enforced targets conservatives. He was told by one administrator that former President Donald Trump would not be allowed to speak on campus for being too controversial.

“We are not aware of any specific criteria regarding which speakers are considered acceptable under SNHU’s controversial speakers policy. However, vague language typically allows administrators to enact policies that are not above board and makes excuses after the fact,” Urban said.

Events with invited speakers are vital to college clubs, which use them to recruit new members. Urban said having the audience limited when a speaker is deemed too controversial is a setback for clubs like his.

“This policy has severely harmed our club because we are not able to bring speakers that will draw a large crowd. Normally, exciting speaking events are a highlight for conservative college clubs and help to increase membership,” Urban said.

The events also bring diverse ideas to the campus, which tends to ideologically skew left, according to Urban.

“They also help to bring diverse views to campus, since liberal arts colleges tend to skew to the left with regard to the speakers they bring and what is taught in the classroom. We ask that SNHU uphold their commitment to freedom of expression on campus,” Urban said.

CONZA: SNHU Is Failing Its Free Speech Pledge

Imagine if the government could silence you before you have a chance to speak because officials think someone might be offended or resort to disruption or violence. It might sound insane that others’ potential feelings or actions mean you have to shut up, but that’s the reality for students at a university here in the Granite State.

Southern New Hampshire University mandates that student groups run all invited speakers by university administrators to weed out those who may cause controversy. The administration gives itself sole discretion to turn down speakers who may “draw unwanted demonstrations” to campus. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, where I work, is demanding that SNHU rescind this requirement because it prevents members of the campus community from freely expressing themselves and from engaging with speakers that the university bans.

To be clear, SNHU is a private school not required to promise students free expression. But when colleges do make those promises by way of university policy—as SNHU does—they must live up to them. When students invite speakers to campus, their association with the speaker constitutes expression. When universities create viewpoint and content-based barriers for students to invite speakers to campus, they restrict students’ rights to free expression, breaking promises made to students who choose to enroll.

SNHU cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth, guaranteeing respect for students’ expressive rights while obstructing those same rights when speech is contentious. However, that’s exactly what administrators did. Their response to FIRE claims the university “seeks to promote and facilitate the exchange of innovative and diverse ideas,” but states the university is “confident” that its policies don’t violate the law or infringe the free flow of ideas. As we told SNHU in response, “expression is not free when authorities must approve of the speakers and viewpoints expressed.”

When institutions shut down free speech, they encourage detractors to disrupt campus in the future, because they know it has worked in the past. This concept is known as the “heckler’s veto” — a form of mob censorship in which officials shut down expression due to actual disruption or the threat of disruption. 

Of course, SNHU must balance free speech with safety. Shouldn’t a university punish those who react to speech with violence and misconduct rather than those who seek to speak peacefully? That is precisely the problem with SNHU’s required review of invited speakers. It cannot unilaterally block broad swaths of political speech under the guise that allowing the speech would sacrifice campus safety. Expression and the free flow of ideas must be encouraged on campus—not restricted.

FIRE rated four New Hampshire universities based on the extent to which their policies restrict students’ right to free expression: Keene State College, Plymouth State College, University of New Hampshire, and Dartmouth College. The rated public schools all earn FIRE’s highest “green light” for free speech. However, Dartmouth—which has faced FIRE’s ire recently for shutting down a student group’s event—earned a “yellow light” rating, meaning it has at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Good policies are the first step to ensuring students may speak freely on campus—a goal all universities should strive to achieve.

SNHU must bring its policies in line with its strong commitment to students’ expressive rights. It should do that not only when legally required to do so, but also because it’s morally obligated to promote a culture of free expression on campus. That’s the beauty of free speech: Speakers whose views may not be commonplace can share their opinions with others and learn from each other without fear of being silenced.

FIRE stands ready to help SNHU, and all other speech-restrictive institutions, bring its policies in line with its commitment to free expression. Officials must stop acting as if free speech hinders a community. Instead, they must acknowledge that it strengthens a community by allowing its members to freely exchange ideas, both controversial and popular, and by allowing those from different backgrounds to gather to learn from one another’s viewpoints. 

To make this vision a reality, SNHU must end its prior review of invited speakers and the censorship that comes with it.

SNHU Under Fire Over Anti-Free Speech Policy Banning ‘Controversial’ Speakers

The free speech non-profit FIRE says Southern New Hampshire University is trying to throttle free speech on campus with its new policy of reviewing and approving all invited speakers to the school. 

When the new president of the Southern New Hampshire University College Republicans Kyle Urban asked the school how to invite conservative speakers to campus, he was told all speakers had to be vetted by the college first to ensure the invitees “are not so controversial that they would draw unwanted demonstrators to campus.” University administrators explained to Urban that the school “invite[s] discussion as long as it is friendly.”

Philadelphia-based FIRE is now involved, calling on the school to live up to its own free speech policies.

“SNHU thus betrays its own free expression promises by demanding prior review of speakers. To be clear, ‘expression is not free when authorities must approve of the speakers and viewpoints expressed,” FIRE’s Sabrina Conza wrote this week to SNHU’s Associate General Counsel Even Lowery.

According to Conza, Urban asked administrators about inviting speakers, expecting information about the mechanics of bringing people to the school to exchange ideas in public. Instead, Urban was told the school staff must “substantively” review and approve all proposed speakers before they are invited.

Conza says SNHU is now violating the promise it makes to students to protect free speech on campus.

“SNHU unequivocally promises students an environment which sustains the ‘ideals of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual,’” Conza writes. “Having made those strong promises, the university may not lay them aside when the expression in question could lead to controversy.”

Conza wrote the approval process would only serve to prevent people from being invited by students or faculty to speak on campus, for fear of offending any group and causing protest.

“SNHU said it is ‘confident’ its ‘policies for speakers and political events on campus are compliant with both state and federal laws and allow for the free flow of information and ideas,’” Conza writes. “FIRE is far less confident.”

FIRE got involved last year after allied threats of protestors shut down a planned speech by conservative speaker Andy Ngo at Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth canceled the Jan. 20 event hosted by the campus chapters of the College Republicans, Turning Point USA, and Network of Enlightened Women, forcing it online based on unspecified “concerning information” from the Hanover police.

However, documents obtained by both NH Journal and FIRE indicate police never thought the planned protest presented a credible threat.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis told FIRE in a letter that his department “did not make a recommendation to Dartmouth College regarding the January 20th event.”

Dartmouth responded to the controversy by charging the Dartmouth College Republicans Club a $3,600 security bill.

Conza said that when college administrators decide who is allowed to speak, the free exchange of ideas is harmed.  

“When university officials determine which views are worth sharing, as SNHU administrators claim the authority to do here, students and faculty will invite fewer speakers to campus. In turn, fewer controversial and non-controversial speakers will come, and fewer viewpoints will be shared, all to the detriment of the campus community. We once again urge SNHU to reverse course,” Conza wrote.

Sununu: ‘I Like Joe Rogan,’ Defends Free Speech

Gov. Chris Sununu likes free speech, the First Amendment, and podcaster Joe Rogan.

Donald Trump? Not so much.

In a radio interview Tuesday morning, the Republican governor told WGIR’s left-leaning talk host Chris Ryan he opposed attempts to silence media voices like Rogan’s, whether or not you agree with their viewpoints.

“Whether it’s social media, the mainstream media, or Joe Rogan,  sometimes you get a difference of opinion — you could call it misinformation — it comes from everywhere now. To say we’re going to become the ‘misinformation police’ because we don’t agree with what they say… that’s just a complete violation of the First Amendment and goes against everything America is about,” Sununu said.

Rogan, whose podcasts attract around 11 million listeners each, is the target of progressives who want his program de-platformed by the Spotify media platform. They are angry that he has interviewed COVID-19 vaccine skeptics and other controversial figures on his show, allowing them to share their opinions. Rogan has also expressed skepticism about public health policy on vaccines, and masks.

Among the progressives pushing to shut him down are aging musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. A single episode of Rogan’s podcast draws more listeners on Spotify than a month’s worth of listeners to Young and Mitchell’s music — combined.

When Ryan argued that “mainstream media programming like his show should be viewed as more trustworthy than Rogan’s (“we have gatekeepers!”) and the confusion between what Ryan considers legitimate media and podcasts is a problem, Sununu pushed back.

“I disagree. I listen to Joe Rogan. I don’t consider him mainstream news. I like Joe Rogan I listen, I agree with something he says and disagree with others. But I would never compare him with Fox News. We have to make our own decisions about the weight we put on an individual’s words.”

Sununu also noted the irony of being asked about the Rogan controversy on CNN two days earlier.

“I thought the question was funny coming from the mainstream media — ‘what should we do about people who put out misinformation?’ I could have gone down a list of 100 things on each of the ‘mainstream’ news channels that are not true, or misinformation, or partisan leaning. But that [censoring speech] is a rabbit hole we’d never come out of,” Sununu said.

However, Sununu was less forgiving of the questionable claims coming from former President Donald Trump. Asked about Trump’s suggestion that participants in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot should be pardoned, Sununu dismissed the idea as a fringe notion.

“I understand the former president has his opinion, but I don’t think it’s shared by pretty much anyone else. I don’t think anybody thinks those who assaulted the U.S. Capitol, assaulted police officers, should be pardoned,” Sununu said. “Especially in the GOP, we believe in accountability, the rule of law, and supporting law enforcement. It would send a terrible message not to support law enforcement.

“When you look at the issues that were going on at the Capitol on that day, if we’re going to take a pass on that, we’d be saying it’s OK to take a pass on those who assaulted police and burned down cities in 2020,” Sununu added.

“There’s still a rule of law that has to prevail.”

Recent polls show a majority of Republicans want the congressional investigation into the events of January 6 to end, and only 17 percent of Republicans believe the rioters are criminals. Another 66 percent say, “They had a point but went too far.”