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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Senate passes campus protest bill

The bill would require the implementation of a code of conduct for students, as well as training.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Lawmakers in the California state Senate Wednesday debated free speech versus the right to protest while considering a bill stemming from recent protests on college campuses.

Senate Bill 1287 — written by state Senator Steven Glazer, a Contra Costa Democrat, would place requirements on California State University trustees and the California Community Colleges’ Board of Governors, and make a request of the UC regents. They would have to adopt and enforce policies prohibiting violence, harassment, intimidation and discrimination. Those policies also would prohibit calls for genocide.

Additionally, the rules created by the governing bodies would include time, place and manner restrictions for protests. Mandatory training would teach students when and where protests could happen, and let them know the difference between public and non-public forums, as well as private property. Students would also be trained to learn how to exchange ideas in a civil and respectful manner.

The bill, which led to a lengthy debate on the Senate floor, passed 30-1. It now advances to the Assembly.

State Senator Dave Min, an Irvine Democrat, said his chamber was trying to balance the right to protest with safety.

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” he added, saying that senators shouldn’t avoid the issue.

The war in Gaza has fueled protests across the nation and on college campuses. The protests have spilled into the California Capitol as well, with pro-Palestine protestors shutting down the state Assembly on the first day of session this year.

Senate staff in a bill analysis stated that several incidents on California campuses have led to unsafe conditions and injuries. On Feb. 26, hundreds of protestors interrupted a UC Berkeley speaker and broke windows and doors. On March 19, a U.S. House of Representatives Committee sent a letter to UC Berkeley, stating that it’s looking into the university’s “response to antisemitism and its failure to protect Jewish students.”  

On April 1, the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice filed a federal complaint that accused UC Davis of ignoring and neglecting complaints of antisemitism on campus.

State Senator Josh Becker, a Menlo Park Democrat, said nothing is more sacrosanct than the right to protest. He invoked the Civil Rights Movement, when people peacefully protested unjust laws and accepted the consequences.

Becker asserted that currently, people are violating just laws and then trying to avoid consequences, in some cases by wearing masks to avoid identification.

State Senator Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, also supported the bill. Reading from the First Amendment, Grove noted that it states there’s a right to peaceably assemble, emphasizing “peaceably.”

Grove said that right doesn’t include threatening someone with beheading because they don’t support a ceasefire, and it doesn’t include calling for someone’s death because of their religion.

State Senator Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, called the bill “difficult,” though she said she would support it. According to Skinner, the Legislature in the past has gone too far when confronted with issues of the day, adding that she believes this bill goes too far.

Skinner called herself absolutely opposed to genocide in any context. However, she questioned whether calling for it should be made unlawful.

The lone dissenting vote, state Senator Aisha Wahab — a Hayward Democrat — said racism, bigotry and calls for genocide are wrong. She said anyone should be free to wear religious items like a star of David, a hijab or a cross.

“I do believe in the right to protest,” Wahab added. “Stifling free speech is problematic in and of itself.”

Other bills that passed Wednesday include Senate Bill 954, written by state Senator Caroline Menjivar, a San Fernando Valley Democrat. The bill would make free condoms available to public high school students. However, it’s contingent upon a financial appropriation.

Lawmakers also approved Assembly Bill 3047, written by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, a Sacramento Democrat. The bill would require the surgeon general to convene a commission and investigate brain injuries linked to youth tackle football. Recommendations would follow, which would include a minimum age appropriate for playing the sport. A bill that would have prohibited children under 12 from playing youth tackle football died earlier this year.

Categories / First Amendment, Government, Law

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