RICHMOND—Today, the Senate of Virginia passed SB 1074, legislation patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) regarding academic liberty and freedom of association on campus, on a 22-18 vote.
"Freedom of association is one of our most fundamental rights," said Obenshain. "Many student groups are organized around shared principles or goals. What's the point of having such a group if you can't even expect group members to share those goals?"
In recent years, several public colleges and universities in Virginia have adopted "all-comers" policies similar to the Vanderbilt University policy that made national headlines last year. Obenshain's legislation is restricted in scope to public institutions of higher education. In the words of one Vanderbilt student, an all-comers policy "attempts to create diversity within groups at the expense of diversity among groups."
"It's pretty simple: a Democratic club shouldn't have to accept a Republican as a member and members of a religious group should be able to expect that their leadership will share the group's core commitments. It's perfectly reasonable for an organization to expect its members to agree with, and be good examples of, the organization's mission," Obenshain added.
"This bill will protect free association and academic freedom on campus," said Obenshain. "Both are two-way streets, and they work in tandem. You can't have academic freedom without the ability of individuals to join together to advance a common cause."
"Today's vote was a victory for common sense and for the constitutional right of free association," said Obenshain. "The bill is is both content and viewpoint neutral."
Obenshain's bill won plaudits from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose Legislative and Policy Director, Joseph Cohn, wrote that the bill "champions the American tradition of pluralism by safeguarding the freedom of association of the Commonwealth of Virginia's public college and university students."
In addressing opposition to the bill, led by the ACLU, Obenshain commented, "If they are going to stand up for civil liberties, all I ask is that they start protecting all of them and not just the ones they like."
The bill now proceeds to the House, which has already adopted companion legislation patroned by Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock). A vote tally will soon be available at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?131+vot+SV0346SB1074+SB1074
Mark Obenshain has served in the Senate of Virginia since 2004, and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Virginia.
ON THE WEB:
SB 1074: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?ses=131&typ=bil&val=sb1074