On Friday, New Hampshire State Representative Mike Belcher (R-Wakefield) posted a press release to X regarding violations of free speech by government-run colleges in New Hampshire. A bill proposed in this session by eight Representatives and three Senators would address the issue by prohibiting the college administrators from discriminating against political speech they oppose.
UNH “FREE SPEECH” PERMIT DATABASE CONTAINS INCONTROVERTIBLE EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan 29, 2024
Rep. Mike Belcher
HB1305 MUST BE PASSED WITHOUT AMENDMENT OR DELAY.
CONCORD, N.H.—House Education Committee heard testimony on January 9, 2024 regarding HB1305, relative to freedom of speech and association at public institutions of higher education. In testimony, University of New Hampshire (UNH) officials assured the committee that no bias or discrimination takes place in their “permitting” process. Evidence demonstrates otherwise.
A UNH student and member of a conservative-oriented organization testified that he was forced to shut down a small, two-person tabling event for his organization due to not receiving a permit prior to the event. He also testified that UNH officials made this student and his organization jump through hoops not required of others for their initial organization, and that enforcement of policies is not even handed. This testimony echoes other testimony by UNH students.
UNH officials confirmed the account that the two-person tabling event for a conservative organization was forced to shut down for not receiving a permit – it was claimed that this is UNH standing policy for all non-permitted events. To confirm these policies and enforcement a copy of all permits issued by the University was requested for the 2023 year – data which we now have.
Per the University’s own database, a large, unpermitted student event was allowed to proceed on October 26, 2023, in the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting in Lewiston, ME. The event, described by UNH as a “walkout and vigil,” but documented by local news outlets as being a political gun-control rally, demonstrates that the University is not consistently applying rules around enforcing their permitting requirement, and is in clear violation of the legal standard that only “time, place and manner” restrictions may be enacted on first amendment activities.
Further viewpoint discrimination is evidenced within UNH’s database regarding six permit applications requesting amplified sound, of which four were requested by Evangelical Christian organizations, and two were requested for pro-Palestinian rallies. All four requests by Christian organizations were denied, while one of the two pro-Palestinian rallies was approved. Noteworthy is that the amplification for the pro-Palestinian rally was approved in the aftermath of a prior similar rally making the news for controversy and drawing a rebuke from the governor – demonstrating that it was approved despite a likelihood that it may result in disruption and further controversy. This seriously undermines any suggestion that the Christian groups were denied due to perceived likelihood of disruption.
Further evidence within the database indicates that of the hundreds of permits documented only a single one was ever selected for additional scrutiny such that a police detective was consulted before approval. This extra scrutiny was applied to a Christian organization which they noted had garnered student “complaints.” This was especially interesting considering the frequently permitted events of tabling for sex-toy demonstrations that appear to have never required any additional scrutiny to approve.
HB1305 must be passed without amendment and without delay to secure the First Amendment rights of UNH students who, as evidenced here, are being subjected to viewpoint discrimination by the University.
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