A state lawmaker has called for holding taxpayer-funded universities accountable and punishing them if they violate freedom of speech. This came after he read about the recent adverse treatment of conservative student organizations on the University of North Texas’ campus.

Kelly Neidert, president of the University of North Texas chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, recently wrote a commentary about the struggles her organization has faced on campus.

“We are often told—not asked—to stop and/or leave while we are out tabling for new members, no matter where we are or how we are tabling,” Neidert writes. She claims employees of the student union told the group they were violating UNT’s solicitation policy by “approaching students.” Neidert also claimed they were forced out of the student union building on Constitution Day for wishing students a “Happy Constitution Day” and signing up new members.

“We were first told that we weren’t in a free-speech zone and that we had to leave,” Neidert said. Later, while tabling outside of a residence hall, they were approached again.

“The residence hall employees decided to argue, however, and say that the residence hall is privately owned, while the rest of the university is public,” Neidert said. Neidert wrote the student worker also said, “Students need their safe spaces,” before admitting that the solicitation policy was “no longer in effect.”

Neidert’s commentary caught the attention of State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington), who commented on Facebook, “Safe spaces are invalid, freedom of speech has no boundaries or lines… It exists everywhere… What they are doing is illegal!!!”

In an interview with Texas Scorecard, Tinderholt expanded on his position.

“I don’t think that these taxpayer-funded institutions … I don’t think they have the authority or right to [violate freedom of speech], but the fact that they do it is bad enough. And on top of it, taxpayer funds are funding them, and then they go do this,” Tinderholt said. “So, we have a whole bunch of people paying tax dollars [who] believe in freedom of speech and the Constitution and your right to freedom of speech … their dollars are going against their own beliefs.”

“Those institutions, I’m telling you, they need to be held accountable, and they need to be punished when they do that,” Tinderholt said. “And I think this next legislative session, we need to make that a priority.”

When asked if he would take any action regarding this next legislative session, he was unambiguous: “Absolutely. 100 percent.”

Texas Scorecard sent a series of questions to the University of North Texas regarding this issue and did not receive a response by publication time. Taxpayers concerned about freedom of speech at UNT may contact the UNT Board of Regents or their own elected state representatives.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


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