EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Georgia conservatives team up on campus free speech

The group is supporting a bill that will protect freedom of association and end speech zones, and speech codes.

Georgia university students recently joined Americans for Prosperity to push for free speech on college campuses.

The Georgia chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) joined with students at the state capitol in February to lobby for Senate Bill 318, a bill aimed at protecting free speech on college campuses. 

The event, called “Campus Free Speech Lobby Day,” featured about a dozen Georgia student activists. The conservative-libertarian grassroots organization is specifically highlighting the legislation’s key provisions which would: end “free speech zones” and “speech codes,” and defend the rights of association and free expression. 

According to AFP Deputy Director in Georgia Tony West, seven students testified in committee in favor of the bill. West also told Campus Reform that the plan is to have about a dozen students at the capitol each week for the next five weeks. 

Campus Reform’s Eduardo Neret recently interviewed West to talk about the event and AFP's efforts to pass the legislation. 

“This bill is similar to what several other states have tried,” West said. “It’s called FORUM, which stands for ‘forming open and robust university minds.’”

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Free speech expert says MILLIONS of US college students denied free speech]

West also further explained the bill’s three main provisions. 

“The first provision is that it’s going to flatly prohibit schools from using free speech zones to stifle and cordon off speech,” West said. “So it will prohibit them from having them and it will deem the outdoor areas of campus that are open to the public, public forums.”

“The second substantive [aspect] is banning free speech codes,” West explained. “So these speech codes are often vaguely worded provisions that students probably aren’t even aware of. Oftentimes they’re about what offensive language is or what harsh language is, and unfortunately, even though some of these are well-intentioned, they can be subjectively applied and actually punish students for lawful speech that’s protected by the First Amendment.” 

One student who testified at the capitol, Daelen Lowry, told Campus Reform of her experience with speech suppression at Georgia Gwinnett College. 

“As I grew stronger in my values and felt compelled to share my viewpoints during class discussions I was met with hate and vitriol at every turn, both from other students and professors alike,” Lowry recounted. “Threats, explicit gestures, and hateful comments like ‘neo-Nazi,’ ‘white supremacist,’ ‘racist,’ [and] ‘Christian b***h,’ just to name a few became my everyday world.” 

[RELATED: Free speech zones galore: 5 Times students’ First Amendment rights were violated on campus in 2019]

Lowry also said that her experiences contributed to her transfer to Southern New Hampshire University. 

“From my time at an in-state college, my experiences showed me that our schools no longer care about true education, an open exchange of ideas, or even the Constitutionally granted rights of their students,” Lowry explained. “My college experience may have been filled with hate and hurt, but no other students’ needs to be. I am truly afraid for the future not only of this state, but of our country if we continue to let our institutions of higher learning dictate what is acceptable speech, where it is acceptable, and most importantly, who is acceptable to speak it.”

Lowry also testified at a Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and urged lawmakers to take action on campus free speech. 

“I would urge each of you to consider the future not only of this state, but of our country if we continue to let our colleges and universities dictate where students can express themselves, what they can say, and most importantly, who it is acceptable for our students to speak with,” Lowry testified. “I do hope that my experience isn’t replicated in the future, and I believe this bill can be the catalyst that ensures that no student has to endure administrative bias, either intentionally or unintentionally.”

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