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VOL. 132 | NO. 39 | Thursday, February 23, 2017

Daniel’s ‘Milo Bill’ Evolves In Freedom of Speech Debate

By Sam Stockard

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NASHVILLE – A Knoxville lawmaker pushing free speech on college campuses stopped calling his legislation the “Milo bill” after a video resurfaced of now-former Breitbart News columnist Milo Yiannopoulos approving of pedophilia.

State Rep. Martin Daniel won’t pull his bill from consideration, though, and instead is calling it the Thomas Jefferson Student Freedom of Expression Act. He’s also using the names of Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry and Martin Luther King Jr. to extoll the legislation.

Daniel, a Knoxville Republican, says he condemns comments by Yiannopoulos supporting racism and sex between men and boys, “if it’s true.” He noted he doesn’t keep up with every one of the columnist’s utterances, but says he doesn’t want controversy to distract from the bill’s importance.

“The point is we’re just trying to get the universities to respect freedom of speech,” Daniel says. “In my opinion, students don’t feel real comfortable speaking, especially conservative ones on campus. We’re just asking the universities to respect the First Amendment.”

When Daniel introduced the measure, he dubbed it the “Milo bill” because of unrest at the University of California Berkeley where students protested when Yiannopoulos was to speak there. The legislation is designed to ensure Tennessee universities allow all types of speakers on campus.

But after a video of Yiannopoulos’ comments about pedophilia came up again, the American Conservative Union gave him the boot as a conference speaker, and Simon & Schuster canceled publication of his upcoming book, according to reports. He is blaming the media for his situation.

Following those revelations, Daniel is changing course.

But his move isn’t enough for some Democrats, who say the legislation isn’t needed anyway. In a press conference Tuesday, Feb. 21, House Minority Leader Mike Stewart urged Daniel to pull the bill from consideration.

“This fellow Milo is the last person we should be lifting up,” Stewart says.

The Nashville Democrat contends Daniel’s bill “piles on” the University of Tennessee after it suffered at the hands of Republican legislators last session because of emails sent by its Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Stewart also calls the legislation “ridiculous and misguided,” another attempt by controlling Republicans to interject themselves into campus activities across the state.

“I’m confident school administrators can handle speakers on the right and left without interference from the Republican supermajority,” Stewart says.

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro says the bill is unnecessary because the university already works to provide students and faculty the opportunity to bring liberal and conservative speakers onto campus.

“No. 1, the Constitution has the First Amendment that we abide by that takes care of the issue,” DiPietro says.

Daniel, however, says ideas espoused by conservative students are being shut down on campus.

“You basically have state-sponsored liberal ideology being spread via the Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” Daniel says. “In reality, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion mandates uniform thought, not diversity of thought.

“The most pro-diversity thing that we could do would be to allow students to speak their mind in respect to what they have to say, irrespective of the content.”

Stewart, on the other hand, says a conservative student who gets “pushback” in his classroom is merely a case of student disagreements.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based writer covering the Legislature for The Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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