Arizona bans colleges from restricting student speech

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation Monday prohibiting public colleges and universities in the state from confining free speech to specific portions of campus.

“Part of the university experience is to be able to express diverse views, openly, without fear of retribution or intimidation—and to be exposed to other views and perspectives, even if they aren’t politically correct or popular,” Ducey wrote in his signing statement, according to The Arizona Republic.

The bill, HB 2615, was introduced in February by State Rep. Anthony Kern (R), who was inspired by his experience attempting to hand out materials with a church group at Glendale Community College. Despite having participated in the annual Independence Day festivities on campus for several years without incident, Kern recalled that one year, “all of a sudden, they came up with this free speech zone which was way away from the people.”

[RELATED: Arizona considering bill to ban ‘free speech zones’ on college campuses]

The new law also has a special relevance to an ongoing fight over the legality of free speech zones, though Kern was not aware of that when he introduced the measure.

Brittany Mirelez, a student at Paradise Valley Community College, filed suit against the school in December after administrators prevented her from recruiting for a Young Americans for Liberty chapter she was trying to start on campus, contending that confining her to a pre-designated free speech zone violated her First Amendment rights.

[RELATED: Student sues college for evicting her from free speech zone]

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which filed the lawsuit on Mirelez’ behalf, also testified in favor of the other measure Ducey signed Monday, HB 2548, which affirms the right of students like Mirelez to bring legal claims against their schools for restricting free speech.

“Arizona students should have the ability to make sure that government officials are not inappropriately censoring their speech on campus in violation of state law,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a February press release. “Closing this loophole allows students to go to court, when necessary, so that government officials can’t get away with ignoring the law.”

Prior to passage, a Senate amendment significantly broadened the scope of HB 2548 in response to another recent incident, adding provisions increasing the penalties for political protesters who block traffic in a direct rebuke of those who employed the tactic in an effort to stymie a Donald Trump rally in March.

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