"Free speech" zones actually limited free speech on campus

Florida lawmakers have been busy this week.

The state’s House of Representatives and the Senate both passed a bill on Monday that eliminates the “free speech zones” on college campuses.

Known as the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018, the bill awaits Governor Rick Scott’s approval.

Prior to the bill, colleges and universities were able to designate areas of campuses as “free speech zones,” meaning students were restricted from protesting in areas without this label.  

“I’ve received thousands and thousands of calls from students that feel that their right to speak freely where they want to in outside areas has been infringed upon and how can they stand up to the big university when they’re just a student struggling to get by,” said Rep. Bob Rommel, who introduced the bill.  

According to the bill, “a public institution of higher education may not designate any area of campus as a free-speech zone or otherwise create policies restricting expressive activities to a particular outdoor area of campus.” 

Florida will be one of the handful of states, including Arizona, Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri to ban colleges from implementing these zones.  

“Attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of students by tucking them into the hidden corners of campus is not only unconstitutional but goes against the very concept of what a college education should be about,” said Demetrius Minor, the coalition's director of the Florida office of Generation Opportunity. 

Universities and colleges can now be sued if campus speakers are disrupted.  

“A person who wishes to engage in an expressive activity in outdoor areas of campus may do so freely, spontaneously and contemporaneously as long as the person’s conduct is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education or infringe upon the rights of other individuals or organizations to engage in expressive activities,” reads the bill. “Outdoor areas of campus are considered traditional public forums for individuals, organizations and guest speakers. A public institution of higher education may create and enforce restrictions that are reasonable and content-neutral on time, place, and manner of expression and that are narrowly tailored to a significant institutional interest. Restrictions must be clear and published and must and provide for ample alternative means of expression.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union was in support of the bill, but not the language making colleges liable.  

“This bill will chill freedom of expression on our state’s college campuses,” said Kara Gross, a policy counsel for ACLU of Florida. “Because it would be up to our state’s institutions of higher learning to expend significant resources in defending against such frivolous lawsuits, this bill incentivizes those institutions to restrict students’ speech and peaceful assembly out of concern that someone might boo too loudly.”

Author’s note: Why were there "free speech zones" in the first place? Just to confine free speech to smaller areas on campus? We are already guaranteed free speech by the Constitution.

 


Audience Index: 0