Hammering home a message on the importance of free speech, Tennessee state Rep. Martin Daniel, a Republican from Knoxville, said that he believes that the Islamic State terror group should be allowed to recruit for new members on U.S. college campuses.
While presenting the “Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” Daniel fielded a question from Rep. John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis, about whether he believed jihadists should be able to stand in the middle of university campuses and “recruit for ISIS.”
“Yes,” Daniel replied. “So long as it doesn’t disrupt the proceedings on that campus. Yes sir. They can recruit people for any other organization or any other cause. I think it’s just part of being exposed to differing viewpoints.”
The remarks followed a debate about the bill, which Daniel said “would direct schools to observe freedom of speech on campus.” While introducing the legislation, Daniel noted that students’ free speech on Tennessee college campuses has been eroded in recent years because of unfair policies, a criticism that would resonate with free-speech advocates throughout the country.
On the other hand, abdicating one’s responsibility to stop criminal activity even in its planning stages counters conservatives’ belief in the rule of law.
Since the Islamic State is a recognized terrorist organization engaged in illegal activity, on-campus recruiting by the group would be similar to the Mafia recruiting hit men and women for assassinations, or a band of thieves openly recruiting a team for jewel heists and bank robberies.
DeBerry disagreed strenuously with the extremism of the example, suggesting that even in an open democracy free speech must have some limits. “Free speech is one thing; being stupid is another,” he said.
Immediately after Daniel argued that ISIS should be allowed to recruit on college campuses, House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee Chairman Mark White, R-Germantown, recommended that the bill be taken off notice.
But Daniel’s position has also found unlikely support. The Clarion Project, a NGO devoted to fighting Islamic terrorism, supported Daniel’s proposal on their website.
“In denying free speech to Islamists,” they said, “we would not only betray our own values, but also undermine our struggle. Preventing Islamists from speaking would allow them to claim the mantle of victimhood, while preventing those who are attracted to the ideology from accessing all the counter-arguments against it. We also open ourselves up to accusations of hypocrisy, which would be deserved.”
In follow-up questioning, Daniel defended his opinion and reiterated his opposition to Islamist terrorism.
“If that speech should cross the line so that it becomes an imminent threat to someone, including our country, that would not be protected speech,” he wrote. Daniel cited Brandenburg vs. Ohio, a 1969 Supreme Court decision that outlawed inflammatory speech, which could incite “imminent lawless action.”
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