2 years ago

Alabama House passes campus free speech bill on party line vote

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday passed as substituted State Rep. Matt Fridy’s (R-Montevallo) HB 498, a bill intended to safeguard freedom of speech on college campuses in the Yellowhammer State.

The bill would require Alabama’s public colleges and universities to protect and adopt policies that uphold the First Amendment free speech rights for students and faculty. HB 498 would also provide a cause of legal action for violations by public higher education institutions under the legislation.

First, HB 498 would eliminate overly broad and ambiguous speech policies that infringe on expression protected by the U.S. and state constitutions, checked by constitutional limitations like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Second, the bill would eliminate so-called “free speech zones.” Finally, the proposal would empower the institutions to protect free expression by members of the campus community from unlawful violations by other members of the campus community.

In a House committee meeting on the bill, Fridy previously explained that this third tenet has to do with protecting students from “shout downs.” The bill sponsor said HB 498 is modeled after legislation already adopted by approximately 15 other states, as an “assault” on free speech and expression occurs on college campuses from coast-to-coast.

Fridy’s legislation states, “Alabama’s public institutions of higher education have historically embraced a commitment to freedom of speech and expression.”

However, he said that there are policies in place on campuses across the state that violate the First Amendment.

In fact, it was reported in recent months that Alabama A&M University and the University of North Alabama were named to the list of the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

In the committee meeting previously, opponents said that the constitutional guarantee to free speech already protects the rights that the bill intends to defend, making it an ultimately redundant government-overreach.

Yet, conservatives in Alabama and across the country have lauded Fridy for bringing the bill.

Eagle Forum of Alabama has endorsed the legislation, saying Fridy is “one of the strongest voices in the Alabama legislature in support of individual liberty and our Constitutional principles of limited government.”

In the committee meeting, prominent National Review commentator and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center Stanley Kurtz spoke in ardent support of the bill, decrying the “shout down culture” growing on college campuses nationwide.

Kurtz mentioned CIA Director Gina Haspel being heckled at Auburn University in a recent appearance, where the protester was promptly removed.

At the committee meeting, a former Auburn undergrad opposed the bill, claiming institutions should have the right to disallow speech by those that “disrupt” “campus culture.”

This former student also exposed a big reason Fridy feels he needed to bring the bill. The former student preached diversity and inclusion while advocating for excluding speech when there is “a difference of opinion.”

The ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Randall Marshall also spoke in opposition to HB 498, with the caveat that the bill contains some good provisions. However, Marshall concluded, in his view, that allowing colleges to enact anti-discrimination policies outweigh individuals’ right to free speech and expression.

One vocal supporter of the bill in committee was State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield), a career journalist from northwest Alabama. He lamented, “Our society has gone soft.”

Estes said people do not have the right not to be offended, which they seem to think overrides constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

In eye-opening fashion, members of the Alabama House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday proved Estes’ comments right as they spoke on the floor against HB 498. You can follow a live-tweet thread of the debate here.

While Republicans like State Reps. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), Kerry Rich (R-Boaz) and Proncey Robertson (R-Mt. Hope) came up to voice their support of Fridy and the bill in spots, the debate was plagued by dizzying arguments against the First Amendment by House Democrats.

For example, even after Fridy walked him through the legal difference between hate speech and dangerous speech, State Rep. Thomas “Action” Jackson (D-Thomasville) said public higher education institutions should have the right to disallow and/or censor hate speech.

Fridy made the follow-up point that the best way to counter hate speech “is more speech” by those with differing viewpoints.

Jackson later claimed that forcing public higher education institutions to uphold students’ free speech rights is violating the “freedom” of those institutions.

“The freedom to reject,” Jackson said, seemingly making up a new clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“The government doesn’t have a freedom to reject,” Fridy advised.

Jackson responded, “[They’re] not the government.”

Friday explained that public colleges and universities are indeed government entities.

Jackson then said the leadership of these institutions should be able to “make that decision” whether they want to usurp the First Amendment or not.

“They are government,” Fridy reiterated.

“Yeah, but they’re a governing body,” Jackson remarked.

Jackson’s speech of opposition stirred up longtime State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham), who said, “I think all people that are invited on our colleges’ campuses don’t need to be there.”

Moore argued against the notion that countering hate speech with other speech is the solution. Instead, her solution would be censorship of speech, with institutions picking and choosing what they feel is acceptable or politically correct.

She opined, “I don’t think that’s the truth,” regarding the notion of all opinions and beliefs being protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

Moore then asserted that government should “be able to say no” on allowing what they deem as hate speech. She said the same power should apply to college/university administrators.

“I think that we don’t need to force them to allow everybody to come on [campus who is invited]. If students say they don’t think a certain person or group should be there, I think that we ought to at least listen to the students’ voices,” Moore stated. “I don’t think we need it all (all viewpoints).”

She added there are some perspectives “that we just don’t need to hear.”

“We need to get away from this, where you’re forcing people to be able to listen to information that they don’t want to hear,” Moore said. “Especially on our college campuses, that’s a place of learning. And if there’s a disagreement of views, than that occurs in the classroom [only].”

She added that institutions should be able to censor or disallow certain speech that might sow “confusion.”

On HB 498, Moore emphasized, “I don’t think a bill to do this is appropriate at this time or at any time.”

Perhaps Moore’s most startling line of the day was, “Freedom of speech ain’t freedom.”

She continued, “And we know as a cause, even when we think we have freedom of speech, somebody paid some kind of price for those of us who are citizens of this country and other countries practicing democracy. Somebody shed some blood, somebody even gave their complete life. So, freedom of speech ain’t really freedom. Because somebody paid a price for us to have it. So, when we come back and take the option away for a [public institution’s] president or board of trustees to say it would not be in the best interest of our university to allow certain speakers to come on [campus]… I think that what we need to do is not be disruptive… I don’t think we need to take the freedom to say ‘no’ away.”

Moore’s performance was followed by other dramatic appearances by Democrats opposing the bill, including State Reps. Juandalyyn Givan and John Rogers of Birmingham.

Rogers and other Democrats like State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Mobile) said that public colleges and universities were adamantly opposing the bill, even though Fridy had worked with two-year and four-year institutions on some changes to the bill. Bracy is a trustee at Alabama State University.

Asked about HB 498 by Yellowhammer News, a spokesman for Auburn University said, “We typically don’t comment on pending legislation, but Auburn leaders have worked with the bill’s sponsors to ensure they know that Auburn stands for free speech and robust exploration of ideas. We likewise stand for respect, equality and other principles fundamental to American society. While people have a right to voice their opinions, we also have a responsibility to speak up when others espouse racism, bigotry, hatred or other offensive views.”

A few off-the-wall ideas were proposed by Democrats during debate, too. Bracy came out in support of “safety zones” instead of “free speech zones” and Moore said controversial speeches should only be allowed over an institution’s closed-circuit TV system instead of in-person.

The final roll call vote on HB 498 was almost entirely by party line and came out 62-27.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it faces a very short window of time before the legislative session ends next week.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 mins ago

Mo Brooks says polling shows high favorables, high statewide name ID among Alabama GOP primary voters despite Electoral College challenge

It has been more than two weeks since U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) took part in an Electoral College challenge, which also included speaking at a rally in support of the challenge earlier in the day.

While Brooks has faced widespread criticism from his Democrat colleagues and liberal voices in the mainstream press, he maintains he is still held in favor by Alabama Republicans.

During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Brooks offered an assessment of his constituents’ reactions and those statewide based on both anecdotal interactions and on polling.

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“They’re split,” he said. “But I’ll give you an example — in Republican ranks, overwhelming support for the positions I have taken. Yesterday, before flying to Washington, I went to a Republican Women of Madison Club meeting. When I walked in the door, they gave me a standing ovation. I had to leave before Will Ainsworth gave his speech, but when I walked out the door, they interrupted the proceedings and gave me a standing ovation. It kind of depends on which group of people you talk to. Of course, the socialists — they despise me because I’m willing to stand up and fight for the foundational principles that made us who we are as a nation. I don’t just talk the talk. I also walk the walk and they don’t like that because apparently to some degree, I’m somewhat persuasive in helping people to understand why these values need to be promoted and protected, the same values that have served us so well.”

“On the Republican side, you’ve got establishment folks that are kind of squishy,” Brooks continued. “They see the federal government as a vehicle by which you can get special benefits, tax favors or money, and they want congressmen and senators who can kind of work behind the scenes and cut whatever deals there are to be cut to improve the financial stature of what Jeff Sessions called our ‘masters of the universe’ crowd. They are very, very uncomfortable with my taking of positions of the conservative nature. But the vast, vast majority of the rank and file Republicans — they’re very supportive. There have been two polls done one with 1,100 Republican primary voters in Alabama. My name ID statewide is up to 81%. My favorable-unfavorable ratio is about 3.5 favorable to 1 unfavorable. That’s gold in any kind of election to have that kind of margin. And then there was one done last in my congressional district, and in the fifth congressional district, where voters know me better and they like the principled positions I take, the favorable-unfavorable ratio amongst Republicans was 4.5 to 1. That’s excellent. That’s outstanding.”

“So it really depends, Jeff, on who you speak to,” he added. “I understand the socialists don’t like me but that’s because I’m coming right at them. I disagree with the basic premise that the government knows more about how we should run our lives than we do. That is the exact antithesis of liberty and freedom, and also strongly disagree with those socialist voter blocs that would rather vote for a living than work for one because long-term, that doesn’t work. That’s just a system based on greed, where you’re envious of other people’s hard-earned money and you try to take it from them to give to yourself rather than earning it yourself, as those other people did.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

13 hours ago

Bill O’Brien hired as Crimson Tide offensive coordinator

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban on Thursday evening announced the hire of Bill O’Brien as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

O’Brien arrives in Tuscaloosa after six-plus years as the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans, where he compiled a 52-48 record that included four AFC South titles, four playoff appearances and two appearances in the AFC Divisional Round.

A release from Alabama Athletics noted that O’Brien’s offenses in Houston proved to be balanced and potent with the Texans ranking in the top-10 in the league in rushing yards, while quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 4,165 yards in 2018 and 3,852 yards in 2019.

“We are pleased and happy to be able to add Bill O’Brien to our coaching staff,” Saban said in a statement. “He has a wealth of experience as both an offensive coordinator and head coach in the NFL and college. Bill is one of the brightest offensive minds in football, an outstanding teacher and excellent recruiter. He will strengthen our coaching staff and give our players the best possible chance to be successful.”

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O’Brien fills the vacancy left by Steve Sarkisian becoming the Texas Longhorns’ head coach.

“I am honored and excited to join Coach Saban’s staff at The University of Alabama,” O’Brien stated. “I have an incredible amount of admiration for the rich football tradition at this University and the success Coach Saban has had during his time in Tuscaloosa. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with some of the best football players in the country, while helping to continue the success this program has enjoyed for many years.”

Prior to joining the Texans, he took on one of the tallest tasks in college football history when he was named head coach at Penn State on January 6, 2012, succeeding Joe Paterno. O’Brien spent two years leading the Nittany Lions program, posting a 15-9 overall record and a 10-6 mark in the Big Ten. During that time, Penn State was under a four-season postseason ban and a loss of 40 scholarships due to the child sex abuse scandal that occurred during Paterno’s tenure.

O’Brien was named the Bear Bryant, Maxwell Football Club and ESPN National Coach of the Year after winning more games than any other first-year head coach in the program’s previous 125 seasons during the 2012 season.

Before his time at Penn State, O’Brien spent five years on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England, including calling offensive plays for three seasons and serving as the offensive coordinator in 2011. He coached in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI and was Tom Brady’s position coach during his 2010 MVP season.

All together, O’Brien boasts 28 years of collegiate and NFL coaching experience and was last a college offensive coordinator at Duke during the 2005-06 seasons. Prior to his time with the Blue Devils, O’Brien served as the running backs coach at Maryland (2004) after spending eight years at Georgia Tech in a myriad of roles, including graduate assistant, running backs, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks and assistant head coach (1995-2002). O’Brien started his career at Brown, coaching the tight ends in 1993 and the inside linebackers in 1994.

This came after O’Brien played linebacker and defensive end at Brown from 1990-92 and graduated with a double concentration in political science and organizational behavioral management. He and his wife, Colleen, have two sons, Jack and Michael.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Auburn trustee, Mobile native Lloyd Austin granted congressional waiver, paving way for confirmation as defense secretary

U.S. Army General Lloyd J. Austin (Ret.) on Thursday was granted a waiver through votes by both chambers of Congress, allowing him to be confirmed as the next secretary of the Department of Defense.

The waiver for Austin, who retired from active duty in 2016, was required because federal law mandates that the Secretary of Defense either be a civilian or someone who has been retired from the military for seven or more years.

The House of Representatives bipartisanly voted 326-78 to grant the waiver; the Senate shortly thereafter voted 69-27 to do the same. All members of Alabama’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the waiver for Austin, who is a native of Mobile.

He also currently serves on the Auburn University board of trustees.

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U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) on Thursday morning had led a letter joined by fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus urging her colleagues to support the waiver.

“I proudly support granting a waiver for Mobile, Alabama native and retired Four-Star General Lloyd Austin to serve as first Black Secretary of Defense,” Sewell said in a statement. “General Austin has an exemplary 41-year career of service and his battle-proven leadership and independence demonstrate he is the right choice to lead the Pentagon during these difficult times. We face many challenges as a nation, not least among them a historic pandemic that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and an unprecedented rise of white supremacist and far right-wing domestic terrorist groups. I’m confident in General Austin’s commitment and ability to course-correct and secure our nation from threats at home and abroad.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (AL-03), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, also voiced his support for Austin, while raising process concerns. Rogers made his thoughts clear in remarks on the floor.

“I believe General Austin understands the threats we face,” the East Alabama congressman said, in part. “I believe he respects the principle of civilian control. I believe he will stand up to the efforts of many in the Democrat majority who seek to slash defense funding and rewrite our defense strategy.”

After a nearly 41-year decorated military career, Austin retired as a four-star general. Some of his former posts include service as the commander of U.S. Central Command, commander of the Combined Forces in Iraq and Syria, and as the 33rd vice chief of staff of the Army.

Austin is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds master’s degrees from Auburn and Webster University. He has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Auburn, and his wife, Charlene, is also an Auburn graduate.

Additionally, the retired general currently serves on the board of directors for Raytheon Technologies and Nucor, both of which have significant Alabama presences.

He would be the first Black DoD secretary in American history. The Senate is expected to confirm him on Friday morning.

This comes after President Joe Biden last month announced his intent to nominate Austin to the important post.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl (AL-01), who represents Austin’s hometown, released a statement in support of the nominee on Thursday.

“Today I voted yes on the waiver for the Secretary of Defense Appointment of General Austin, even though I am frustrated with the House Democrats’ deeply flawed process. I believe General Austin is well-qualified to serve as our nation’s Secretary of Defense, and I am optimistic that he will push back against far-left attempts to cut military funding and weaken our nation’s defenses,” said Carl.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

We are about to watch Alabama’s 7th U.S. House seat become Mexico’s 1st

“America First,” is dead, and “Americans Last” is the new normal. As a result, Alabama is screwed.

No one expected now-President Joe Biden to follow the agenda of now-former President Donald Trump. He ran on being the exact opposite of him in every way.

But now that Biden is in office, the real consequences of those actions are going to be felt, and we are going to feel it right here in Alabama.

On his first day, Biden decided that “America First” would be put down behind the White House. But who knew the execution would be so swift?

Look at the actions Biden has taken so far:

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He immediately rejoined the World Health Organization. WHO is a notoriously corrupt puppet of China that knowingly made the coronavirus pandemic worse by helping the Chinese government conceal the origins and reality surrounding the global issue. Empowering them solely because Trump rejected them will hardly make America better. It will just force us to keep funding them.

The Paris climate accord sounds like a great idea. Who doesn’t want to make the world a better place? But does this do that? No. It holds America and countries like China, Pakistan and India to different standards. This will only incentivize companies to abandon America to avoid stronger regulations, helping China and other countries. What will this do? Increase pollution and harm America’s economy.

Now, let’s talk illegal immigration. We have a caravan headed to America from south of the border. It will not be the first because Biden and his handlers will let them in.

The Biden administration also decided to pause immigration-related removals from the United States on day one.

Biden has announced the building of the border wall will stop, even though it has cut down on human trafficking, drugs, arrests and illegal immigration.

The wall worked. Biden decided to stop building it — not to help Americans, but to help those who would enter illegally.

So what does this mean for Alabama? Barring some miraculous court order, we will lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) have been fighting for more than three years to prevent illegal immigrants from being counted in for the allocation of U.S. House seats.

It is astonishing that a decision by an American president is made to intentionally take a seat away from states that have not been friendly to an overrun of our border and country by illegal immigrants.

There is no way to argue this puts Americans first in any possible way shape or form. This, by design, empowers foreign citizens and strips power away from Americans.

“America First” is dead; its execution was public and brutal. The media and their Democrats cheered its death.

“Americans Last” is the new normal, and Alabama is screwed.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

18 hours ago

Manufacture Alabama launches Diversify initiative — ‘Creating a culture of inclusion and diversity from the highest ranks all the way down to the shop floor’

Manufacture Alabama, the trade association dedicated exclusively to the needs of Yellowhammer State manufacturers, on Thursday unveiled Diversify — an initiative to foster diversity and inclusion.

According to a release from the association, Diversify is committed to addressing multiple dimensions of human diversity, especially those that are linked to conditions resulting from prejudice and discrimination.

The initiative was established to provide resources and promote strategies to achieve a culture that values diversity as evidenced by attitudes, policies and practices within Alabama manufacturing facilities and beyond.

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“Diversify addresses one of the most important challenges that the manufacturing industry must address – creating a culture of inclusion and diversity from the highest ranks all the way down to the shop floor,” stated George Clark, president of Manufacture Alabama. “Manufacture Alabama is committed to the progress of diversity and inclusion through this important initiative. Promoting a diverse culture of inclusivity is crucial to the ongoing success of the association and to the success of our manufacturers.”

Diversify will be led by a council consisting of state industry leaders with diverse backgrounds who have a passion for sustaining an inclusive environment within their companies and communities.

The council membership includes the following:

• State Rep. Napoleon Bracy, Jr., Manager, Diversity & Inclusion, AUSTAL USA
• Quentin P. Riggins, Senior Vice President Governmental and Corporate Affairs, Alabama Power Company
• Angela Hunt, Organizational Development Manager, Hunt Refining Company
• Richard Lehr, Shareholder, Lehr Middlebrooks Vreeland & Thompson, P.C.
• LaShaunda Holly, Communications and Workforce Development Manager, BASF
• Ashlen Loban, Administrative Coordinator, Manufacture Alabama

Riggins commented in a statement, “I’m honored to work with partners committed to the hard work of finding solutions which promote unity, fairness and acceptance of all people in the manufacturing industry.”

“No matter what company or industry we represent, we all have a responsibility to foster an inclusive culture and embrace diversity in order to build a better Alabama,” he added.

Manufacture Alabama represents some of Alabama’s largest employers.

“The Diversify council is made up of an impressive and diverse group of leaders who have pledged to put visions into action and are committed to the growth of Diversify,” concluded Clark. “The contributions of this council will benefit manufacturers throughout the state and beyond.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn