A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Tuesday issued what free speech advocates are calling a veiled threat to withhold funding from the University of Pittsburgh over the school’s decision to allow several conservative speakers on campus.
During an appropriations hearing on university funding, Pennsylvania state representative La’Tasha Mayes (D.) demanded that Pitt disinvite Cabot Phillips, Riley Gaines, and Michael Knowles from upcoming campus events. All three speakers have a history of “targeting transgender students,” Mayes claimed—especially Knowles, whom she accused of saying that “transgender people should be eradicated.”
Mayes called on university chancellor Patrick Gallagher, who was at the hearing to request additional funding from the state, to “cancel the speakers who are coming to campus”—implying that she might vote against his request if he did not. Mayes did not respond to a request for comment.
The exchange alarmed Speech First, a legal nonprofit focused on First Amendment issues, which called Mayes’s remarks an “abuse of power.”
“The state is saying that if the university doesn’t violate its students’ First Amendment rights, then their funding could be at risk,” Cherise Trump, Speech First’s executive director, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Lawmakers shouldn’t be using veiled threats to hold funding over universities simply because they don’t like a person who was invited to speak.”
The shakedown highlights the growing willingness of progressive lawmakers to target offensive speech, in part by putting pressure on universities that permit it. In January 2022, for example, Democrats in both the Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsylvania State Senate urged the University of Pennsylvania to fire Amy Wax, the tenured law professor who has drawn fire for her views on race and immigration. Other Democrats, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Maryland senator Ben Cardin, have falsely claimed that “hate speech” is not protected by the First Amendment.
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