by ashleyklingensmith | March 22, 2023

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Pennsylvania’s constitution extends these protections of free speech in Article 1, Section 7 and Section 20.  In this moment of rampant cancel culture and regular attacks to free speech and expression, we believe one of the most notable offenders is Harrisburg just this past week.  On March 15, State Representatives Jessica Benham, LD36, of Pittsburgh and Malcolm Kenyatta, LD181, of Philadelphia, along with the LGBTQ Equality Caucus used their elected public office to issue a statement calling on the University of Pittsburgh, a publicly funded university, to cancel two events hosted by student organizations.  These include a debate on transgenderism and “saving women’s sports.”  In their release, they talk about the threat of platforming the speakers and safe spaces.  These buzz words might be of service in press releases and on ads, but they’re a corporeal threat when coming from government officials.  The chilling effect of members of the General Assembly directing a publicly-funded university to take adverse action against student groups knows no bounds and sets an extraordinary precedent for the worse.  When the state claims the power to determine what’s acceptable speech and suppress what’s not, it silences dissenting voices and the debate they generate.

AFP-Pennsylvania rebuked these lawmakers for urging the suppression of free speech.  Deputy State Director and Pitt Alumni Emily Greene noted:

“It is not the role of elected lawmakers to determine what speech is allowable in academic settings—where wide-ranging inquiry and debate are the cornerstone of intellectual freedom and progress. Such chilling actions from members of the General Assembly not only violate the spirit of free speech—but in urging a publicly funded university to censor students—they also violate the First Amendment.

University campuses are the precise venue where controversial discussions should be happening. While the scheduled topics certainly have the potential to be offensive to members of the community, such discussions are the very definition of ‘free speech’. Far from encouraging censorship on campus, the Pennsylvania General Assembly should be taking steps to protect free speech on campus and throughout the Keystone State.”

State Representatives Jill Cooper, LD55, and Marla Brown, LD09, joined the rebuke with respective statements of their own.  Representative Cooper said, “Instead of seeking to silence those with different opinions, we should discuss matters respectfully with the intent of understanding one another. I agree with transgender activist Deirdre McCloskey that the events should occur as scheduled. We shouldn’t be afraid of civil discussion; we should embrace it. Our differences should be celebrated, promoted and expressed with appreciation and consideration for others, rather than canceled or censored.”  Representative Brown stated, “An open society depends on liberal education, and the whole enterprise of liberal education is founded on the principle of free speech.”

The First Amendment is a protection of citizens from restriction of expression by the government.  We’ve got to do better, PA.  Join the defense of free speech by signing our petition, joining thousands of Americans who know civil liberties are the solution to uncivil times!  Visit, select Take Action, select Petitions, and you’ll be able to scale your voice in under a minute’s time.  Keep up to date on Facebook (@PAAFP), on Twitter (@AFPPennsylvania) and on our newly unveiled chapter website at  I’m Ashley Klingensmith, State Director with Americans for Prosperity-PA.

Ashley S. Klingensmith | State Director | Americans for Prosperity – PA

m: 412.915.1551 | e: [email protected] | @AFPPennsylvania