To: Senate Education Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: HB 1471
Date: March 19, 2015

It is our understanding the committee was requested to amend HB 1471 to reinsert language that would prohibit a private postsecondary education institution from enacting policies concerning student speech. The North Dakota Catholic Conference opposed this section of the original bill for several reasons.

First, it is broader in scope than the rest of the bill. The rest of the bill, in its original and amended form, addresses the rights of student journalists. The section of the original bill concerning private colleges and universities extended to all student speech and communication, whether or not the speech or communication was part of a journalistic endeavor.

Second, we believe that government should not unduly interfere with the policies and practices of private institutions. There are some situations, such as when the private institution accepts state funds, when some restrictions might be warranted. This is not one of them. The original bill, without justification, dictates to private college or university what it cannot include in its policies.

Third, the original bill had a subsection exempting institutions controlled by a religious organization “to the extent the application of this section would not be consistent with the religious tenets of the organization.” This exemption, while well-intentioned, is problematic. First of all, all private institutions should be exempt from undue state interference for any reason, not just religious institutions for religious reasons. Secondly, the provision impermissibly invites courts to review the “religious tenets” of a religious organization — something that is outside a secular court’s competence, in addition to being unconstitutional.

For these reasons, we ask the committee to not reinsert Section 2 of the original bill into Engrossed HB 1471.