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Bills Focus on Free Speech in N.H. Schools

State House of New Hampshire
Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Lawmakers in the New Hampshire State House are considering several bills aimed at protecting students' free speech and curtailing what their sponsors see as liberal political bias in schools.

House Bill 234 would establish rules for protecting First Amendment rights of students and speakers on campus. Much of the bill's language is drawn from model policiespenned by the conservative Washington, D.C.- based American Legislative Exchange Council.

Ben Mickens, a vice chair of the N.H. College Republicans and student at Saint Anselm College, told lawmakers that New Hampshire needs to take a bolder step in protecting students like him.

"I believe this bill will not only help conservative students to feel more comfortable speaking out on campus, but to help liberal students gain a deeper understanding of conservative thought,” he explained.

Ron Rodgers, an attorney for the University System of New Hampshire, testified against the bill. He said they already had policies to protect free speech and ensure security of the speakers and audience at events, and that the bill created unneccessary requirements.

Another Republican-sponsored bill, House Bill 257, would prohibit political advocacy in K-12 public schools, including subjecting any political position to “ridicule.”

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Max Abramson, of Seabrook, said schools should teach kids to question old assumptions but that texbooks were promoting "interventionist" government and progressive economic policies.

High school teacher Penny Culliton, of Temple, Zoomed in to testify against the bill. She said it would have a chilling effect on teachers' ability to explain important events in the nation's past.

"Should teachers teach that the separate but equal doctrine didn't have ill effects - just remain neutral on them?” she asked. “Be neutral on the Comstock Laws or Dred Scott decision?"

While prohibiting teachers from advocating for or against any political positions, the bill says no students should be deprived of their right to free speech.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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