MAP: Growing number of states consider free-speech bills
At least 13 states have now proposed or implemented legislation designed to protect free speech on college campuses.
While Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arizona have already passed bills that would crack down on disruptive university demonstrators and so-called “free speech zones,” legislators from California, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin are attempting to push similar bills through their own state chambers.
"There is good evidence for believing that respect for free-speech has declined in the last few years."
A Louisiana state senate panel on Thursday, for instance, cleared a free-speech measure, House Bill 269, advancing it to the next step of the legislative process.
According to a report by The Advocate, State Rep. Lance Harris, a Republican lawmaker behind the initiative, called the bill necessary “to protect free expression on campuses.”
"I bring this bill because of things happening across the country," Harris remarked, noting that "this is something other states have addressed or are addressing as we speak."
In New Hampshire, the introduced House Bill 477 would limit the ability of an academic institution to "to restrict a student's right to speak in a public forum."
Similar legislation in Michigan seeks to develop "a policy on free expression" by underscoring that "it is not the proper role of the community college to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment."
While not precisely identical, most of the bills seek to address similar problems across college campuses, such as the increasingly common “free speech zones” and the rise in campus disruptions, as seen most recently at place like the University of California, Berkeley and Evergreen State College.
Accordingly, a legislative push out of California, a heavily Democratic state, is looking to penalize demonstrators who prevent controversial figures from expressing their views on campus after Berkeley experienced some of the most violent and destructive protests in recent memory.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Republican legislators in the state have responded to the incident by backing a measure that would restrict the university's ability to regulate student speech on campus.
The recent spike in free-speech legislation comes after the Goldwater Institute and Stanley Kurtz produced model legislation to help state lawmakers craft their own bills around the country.
“We’ve had campus demonstrations since the 1960's that were not properly respectful of freedom of speech, so you could say that there’s nothing new here, but I do think that there is good evidence for believing that respect for free-speech has declined in the last few years even beyond what it has been,” Kurtz told Campus Reform when introducing the model legislation in February. “We know this from various surveys and of course the rise of things like ‘microaggressions,’ ‘safe-spaces,’ and ‘trigger-warnings.’ They all indicate to me a generation that has been educated by left-leaning professors who weren’t fans of free speech themselves.”
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Editor's note: This article has been amended since its initial publication to reflect the status of several bills.