Florida outlaws free speech zones in higher ed bill

The bill, which has garnered the support of multiple First Amendment non-profits, also includes a "Cause of Action" mandate, which would allow people to sue institutions if they feel their "expressive rights are violated."

A Florida bill that would outlaw free speech zones on the state's college campuses recently cleared the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Governor's desk.

Florida’s House of Representatives passed a massive higher education bill which eliminates so-called “free speech zones,” pending Governor Rick Scott’s signature.

The bill, which effectively eliminates so-called “free speech zones” on public college and university campuses in the state, incorporates many elements of the “Campus Free Expression Act,” which was sponsored by Republican State Senator Dennis Baxley.

That bill was originally voted down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but was then revived by the Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, which voted to incorporate large portions of Baxley’s bill into Senate Bill 4, the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018.”

[RELATED: Iowa Dems claim free speech bill would ‘legalize’ discrimination] 

In addition to eliminating free speech zones from Florida public institutions of higher education, the bill also creates a “Cause of Action,” which would allow people to sue an institution of higher education if they feel their “expressive rights are violated.”

However, the “Cause of Action” was somewhat controversial, as the Florida ACLU opposed the bill for that specific portion, though the organization did agree that free speech zones should be outlawed on college campuses.

“The ACLU of Florida absolutely supports eliminating free speech zones on campus, and we testified to that effect,” said ACLU Media Relations Coordinator Gaby Guadalupe.

[RELATED: Florida lawmakers revive campus free speech bill] 

Joe Cohn, legislative policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told Campus Reform that the elimination of free speech zones will benefit students.

“Students shouldn’t have their free speech rights quarantined into misleadingly labeled free speech zones and unfortunately public institutions in Florida are doing just that,” he said.

Burnett also observed that the “Cause of Action” would allow students to sue the public institution in a state court if their First Amendment rights are violated, noting that this would be cheaper to litigate as opposed to a federal court.

“The Florida affiliate (of the ACLU) is somewhat of an outlier here in the position that they are taking, and in this particular instance, we think they’re wrong and we look forward to working with them on issues of common ground in the future,” he said, claiming that the Florida ACLU deviates in this respect from the other ACLU chapters across the country.

[RELATED: Student gov pushes resolution denouncing free speech bill] 

In a statement to Campus Reform, Generation Opportunity (GO-FL), a nonpartisan organization committed to more freedom and a bright future for all young Americans, said that the ending of free speech zones will help students confront challenging ideas.

“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 GO-FL’s Coalitions Director Demetrius Minor. “College is a place where young people go to learn new ideas and challenge concepts on their merits, but that dialogue will never occur if free expression is not openly permitted on campus.”

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk and will go into law if signed.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10