The lawmakers behind the new caucus have backed limiting what professors can teach about critical race theory previously.
A group of Senate Republicans who have pushed to limit what professors can teach about America's history of racism announced on Wednesday that they will form a new Campus Free Speech Caucus that they say is aimed at protecting diverse views at colleges and universities.
In a Fox News op-ed, Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote, "A democracy that doesn't tolerate free speech will not remain a democracy for long. It's essential that we reclaim our colleges and universities so that they provide value to future generations of Americans, not just an exclusive safe haven for Marxists and other radicals."
They said their new group would protect free speech and "promote legislation to ensure that diverse viewpoints are respected and debated" at institutions of higher learning.
"If colleges want to fulfill their responsibilities to this country and justify the enormous public support we give them, they must lead by example," they concluded. "We all have a duty to help young Americans become better citizens and we should start by teaching them to respect and embrace freedom of speech wherever they encounter it."
Republican Sens. John Boozman (AR), Mike Braun (IN), Steve Daines (MT), and Roger Marshall (KS) also signed on as founding members of the caucus.
Several of the lawmakers behind the new caucus have notably tried to block other kinds of campus speech with which they disagree.
Blackburn and Cotton have been two of the Senate's most outspoken opponents of critical race theory, an academic approach to examining the history and structure of the United States that considers the role racism played in its formation and the role it plays today.
In March, Cotton denounced critical race theory as a "racist" ideology that improperly teaches that the U.S. Constitution — which stated that hundreds of thousands of enslaved Black people counted as only three-fifths of a person — is "fundamentally racist."
In June, Blackburn claimed that this examination of racism was "wrong for the nation because it teaches our children to hate America and judge each other for our differences." In July, she called it "a state-sponsored form of racism."
Many of those lawmakers have tried to restrict its teaching on campuses.
In March, Cotton filed a bill, the Combating Racist Training in the Military Act of 2021, to prohibit "academic institutions operated or controlled by the Department of Defense" from teaching about critical race or other "anti-American and racist" theories. Blackburn, Boozman, and Daines all are listed as co-sponsors.
In May, he proposed a tax on "liberal" universities' endowments to punish them for teaching about history in ways he didn't like, calling it the "Ivory Tower Act."
"As long as these institutions preach things like Critical Race Theory, a percentage of their endowments should be redirected to support vocational training," he said.
In July, Cotton demanded that Air Force Academy professor Lynne Chandler García be fired for teaching students about critical race theory. He said that she "probably should start looking for a different place of employment, in my opinion" and that he planned to take the matter up with the academy's superintendent.
"Professor García has no business teaching the Constitution or political science at the Air Force Academy," he tweeted. "We should not be teaching cadets that our military is a fundamentally racist institution."
Blackburn and Daines also have backed efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit its First Amendment free speech protections.
In June, Daines authored and Blackburn co-sponsored a proposal to let Congress "prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
The Supreme Court ruled in 1988, in an opinion joined by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, that flag burning was a protected form of political protest. "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment," the court held, "it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.