ICYMI: Rep. Kelly Defends Free Speech on US College Campuses at Ways & Means Hearing

Mar 2, 2016

Oversight subcommittee hearing held amidst increasing violations of students’ First Amendment rights

“It is absolutely chilling that we have to have this kind of a hearing to expose what’s going on”


WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) – a member of the House Ways and Means Committee – participated in this morning’s hearing by the Subcommittee on Oversight on “Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas on College Campuses” to determine whether tax-exempt colleges and universities are using the tax code to avoid upholding their commitment to create an open marketplace of ideas on campus. The hearing followed nationwide reports of increasingly widespread assaults on free speech rights in academia by radical student activists. 

Highlights of Rep. Kelly’s remarks:

“I want to read something because I think this goes to the very essence of what the meeting is about today. It goes to a speech that was given in 1944 by Judge Learned Hand … This is what the judge said:

‘What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.’”

“Isn’t it stunning that you have to come, Mr. Zuckerman and Mr. Atkins, to Congress? Your right to free speech — whether I agree with what you say or whether I don’t agree with what you say — that is the beauty of who we are as Americans. That goes to the very fabric of what this country was founded on, and especially in our universities.”

“You should never ever feel that you don’t have the ability to do this and to speak out, especially on a university campus, especially in the United States of America.”

“I think it is absolutely chilling that we have to have this kind of a hearing to expose what’s going on. And I think, when I look back on my college days, that if we ever were suppressed or not able to express the way we felt, you would have to go to the very depths of who it is we are as a people.”

“These are great things about America. We know that enshrined in the very Bill of Rights, the very First Amendment to the Bill of Rights allows us to have free speech. But what you had to go through is absolutely ridiculous. And I don’t care what college it is, private or public; all these folks are influenced in some way or another by the tax code. So I don’t want anybody to ever be confused about why we would hold this today. If not, ask who? Who would hear you? Who would stand up for you? Who would defend you in the public place?”

“When [liberty] dies in who we are, when it dies in the fabric of who America is, then we’re no longer America. So you can forget the red, the white, and the blue and all the things that we talk about all the time. If we can’t defend who we are, if we can’t protect the freedom of speech, then we have no business serving in this House.”

A full list of witnesses can be viewed here.