NC passes first Goldwater-based free speech law

The state of North Carolina has officially enacted the first free speech law based on the legislative proposal by the Goldwater Institute.

The final version of North Carolina Restore Campus Free Speech Act passed the state Senate by a vote of 34 to 11 in late July, with all 11 Democrats voting against the legislation, National Review reported.

In the House, however, 10 Democrats joined their Republican colleagues to pass the bill by an 80 to 31 margin. The Democratic Governor Roy Cooper also allowed the bill to pass by taking no action on the legislation.

[RELATED: Growing number of states consider free-speech bills]

According to the report, the new law prevents the University of North Carolina administrators from disinviting speakers on campus. It also creates a system of sanctions that is designed to discipline individuals who suppress the right to free speech of others.

Moreover, the law authorizes the Board of Regents to create a special committee that will issue annual reports detailing administrative handling of matters related to free speech.

Stanley Kurtz, one of three authors behind the original Goldwater proposal, praised the passage of the bill and the support that it received from some elected Democrats.

“That proposal, which I co-authored along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher of Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, was released on January 31 and is now under consideration in several states,” Kurtz wrote in National Review.

“Given the intense party polarization in North Carolina, the substantially bipartisan House vote was impressive. Governor Cooper’s decision to let the bill become law with no action is also interesting and instructive.”

Kurtz also notes that the university successfully weakened several aspects of the bill, including the “cause of action” provision which “would have allowed anyone whose expressive rights under the new law were violated to recover reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees.”

“The university also succeeded in weakening the provision that designates public areas of the campus as ‘public forums.’ Potentially, this would allow the university to cabin free speech to restricted zones,” he argues while noting a special committee within the UNC Board of Governors should still serve “as a check on administrative abuse on issues like free-speech zones.”

[RELATED: Prof: ‘college campuses are not free-speech areas’]

Kurtz further stresses that the law contains a provision that would suspend students who were found responsible for silencing other individuals more than once.

“That provision is important for a number of reasons. First, the punishment is just. A student who twice silences visiting speakers or fellow students obviously hasn’t learned a lesson from the initial punishment,” he writes.

“Second, since universities regularly ignore shout-downs or hand out meaningless punishments, the mandatory suspension for a second offense is the only way to prevent schools from undermining the law by handing out wrists-slaps ad infinitum.”

Kurtz maintains, however, that any lax enforcement of the law will be documented in the annual report from the Board of Governors and could further lead to consequences for the administration.

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