Port: California cancels North Dakota over ... free speech?

California says North Dakota's law was an affront to the LGBTQ community, which left North Dakota's first openly gay lawmaker a little confused.

Barry Jennings, a 2018 graduate of North Dakota State University, protests the handling of hate speech incidents involving NDSU students Saturday, Dec. 5, in front of Ceres Hall. It was the second day of protests on the campus. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINOT, N.D. — We shouldn't take California's travel ban very seriously.

North Dakota was recently added to that state's naughty list, meaning state employees are restricted in their ability to travel here, and the real-world impact will be pretty much nothing. The people implementing this policy don't even take it that seriously, as evidenced by a recent Associated Press report : "[Attorney General Rob] Bonta did not have information about how many state agencies have stopped sending state employees to the states on the list or the financial impact of California’s travel ban on those states."

California's left-wing leadership cares more about the appearances of this policy than its practical applications. If that weren't true, Mr. Bonta might actually know a thing or two about how the policy is being implemented.

But let's focus on what it was, exactly, that earned North Dakota the ire of The Golden State. The AP tells us that the ban implemented against ours and other states "because of laws that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community."

The law specifically cited for North Dakota was House Bill 1503 , introduced by Rep. Kim Koppelman , R-West Fargo, which was passed earlier this year and is focused on campus free speech.


The bill really doesn't have anything to do with the LGBTQ community, specifically. And you don't have to take my word for it. Rep. Josh Boschee , a Fargo Democrat and the first openly gay member of the Legislature, was equally flummoxed by California's decision.

Boschee "said he didn't recall during the session 'any specific conversation related to impacting LGBT students,'" the Bismarck Tribune reports.

He opposed the bill, but not for anti-LGBTQ reasons.

Bonta's office says the bill "repeals existing protections at some North Dakota public universities by permitting certain publicly-funded student organizations to openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ students by restricting participation in those organizations. It also limits the ability of universities and colleges to sanction or discipline student-on-student harassment."

The bill does prohibit universities from making value judgments as to the speech of student organizations. If, say, a Christian student group wants to argue that same-sex marriage is sinful, they're allowed to, however you or I might feel about that argument.

Isn't that the point of free speech? And by the way, another student group that might want to argue that opposition to same-sex marriage is bigotry would have the same protections.


That's how it works.

Popular speech doesn't need protection. Nobody is trying to inhibit our ability to talk about baseball or the weather. The First Amendment has to exist to protect the controversial speech, such as opinions about LGBTQ lifestyles, people with power, like, say, the Attorney General of California, might want to silence.

As for the supposed limits on addressing harassment that Bonta references, the bill says quite the opposite.

Photo: State Rep. Josh Boschee
State Rep. Josh Boschee, a Democrat from Fargo, pictured here at the Democratic-NPL's 2018 state convention. (Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

"An institution may not enforce the student-on-student discriminatory harassment policy by disciplining or otherwise imposing any sanction on a student for a violation of the policy stemming from expression unless ... The speech or expression is unwelcome, targets the victim on a basis protected under federal, state, or local law, and is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that a student effectively is denied equal access to educational opportunities or benefits provided by the institution," it says.

Or, more succinctly, universities can't act against harassing speech unless it's actually, you know, harassment.

A tactic frequently deployed by those wishing to silence speech is to categorize the speech they don't like as harassment or even violence. It's a bogus tactic, and this bill aims to prevent it, at least on North Dakota's campuses.


That's a good thing.

The entirety of HB 1503 is a good thing.

I'm glad it's law.

I'm confused why anyone, from the North Dakota liberals who opposed it in the Legislature to California's progressive Savanrolas, would see it as a bad thing.

I get it. It's hard to countenance speech we disagree with. It's difficult to see and hear people express things we don't like. But if we, as Americans, aren't committed to the principles of free speech, what are we even doing here?

To comment on this article, visit

Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What to read next
The proposed 8.5% increase for Cass County employees would require raising property taxes by $3 million. It's appalling that the Cass County Commission is even considering raising taxes while families are themselves struggling with inflation.
Despite the Greater North Dakota Chamber being the single largest financial supporter of an attempt to make it harder to pass citizen-led initiated measures, oil and coal interests were right behind.