In an unexpected twist, Texas lawmakers have passed a pair of bills that will make certain jokes punishable by possible jail time — and it threatens the rights of everyone who sets foot on a college campus.
While several states have taken a revolutionary stance on the First Amendment rights of students and staff members by passing free-speech bills protecting offensive rhetoric, other states are attempting to strip citizens of their freedoms. Disturbingly, this governmental overreach (SB 212 and HB 1735) is invading the last refuge of free speech — comedy.
In a bizarre twist, a historically red state is attempting to legalize one of the most progressive legislative actions to date. The bills attack the freedoms of individuals on campuses of higher learning, which used to be hubs for open discussion and welcoming of all ideas.
According to The College Fix, Texas lawmakers have passed SB 212 and HB 1735, which will not only punish college students for making jokes that are sexual in nature but also could mean jail time for staff and faculty members who fail to report such speech. The bill makes failures to report a Class B misdemeanor, which can earn guilty parties up to 6 months in jail.
Ignoring warnings from a civil-liberties group, the governor signed provisions into Texas law that use criminal law to enforce an unconstitutional definition of campus sexual harassment. The bills have been disguised as protection for the victims of sexual harassment. However, the legislation’s vague wording allows for even offensive jokes or comments to be punished as a crime.
The definition bill (SB 212) literally says that “unwelcome, sex based” words constitute harassment if they are “sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive” to interfere with a student’s studies. What is “unwelcome”? Ask the most easily offended person on campus.
Disturbingly, SB 212 leaves room for the offended party to determine the motivation for the offender’s speech. Thanks to the undefined verbiage, even if the speaker didn’t intend to offend, the “victim” has the power to accuse them of sexual harassment if they feel violated by said speech, FIRE claims.
“Without an objective requirement, students and faculty are held hostage to the personal feelings and opinions of their accusers, no matter how unusual or even unreasonable.”
The bills could lead to an infinite number of complaints, making students and staff members perpetually suspicious of one another. Additionally, HB 1735 allows for colleges to treat accused students as guilty until proven innocent, ultimately denying them due process. As such, students may be expelled from school while staff and faculty members could lose their jobs or face jail time.
Most worryingly is that HB 1735 directly incentivizes false reporting by requiring colleges to allow for accusers to drop classes they share with accused students “without academic penalty.” As such, if a student is academically struggling in a course, they can simply accuse their peer of making a sexual reference and opt out of the class without penalty.
The bills shed a light on the creeping overreach that the government is exacting with the help of human rights activists. While many avidly support bills like these on the belief that they are protecting alleged victims, they fail to recognize that they are actually creating more victims by further infringing upon their rights.
Bills like these not only threaten the freedoms of citizens but silence the victims of actual sex crimes and minimize their suffering. We cannot surrender our constitutional rights under the guise of protection.