On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah announced that he was introducing legislation to protect free speech on campus. The bill, called the “Free Right to Expression in Education Act,” would prohibit public institutions of higher education from quarantining free expression into small, misleadingly labeled “free speech zones” on their campuses. If enacted, the measure would free tens of thousands of public university students from these restrictive, unconstitutional zones.
The Free Right to Expression in Education Act states, in part:
Each public institution of higher education . . . may not prohibit . . . a person from freely engaging in noncommercial expressive activity in an outdoor area on the institution’s campus if the person’s conduct is lawful.
The bill would allow universities to “enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions” on speech occurring in the open, outdoor areas of the public, but those restrictions would need to follow applicable standards set by the Supreme Court.
FIRE has long argued that public colleges and universities must — once and for all — abandon the use of so-called “free speech zones.” As we’ve noted through the years, free speech zones or other permitting schemes at colleges and universities have been used to stifle student speech from across the political spectrum. FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project has sponsored litigation or litigated several free speech zone cases, including on behalf of a student distributing animal rights literature at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; a student advocating for Second Amendment rights at Blinn College; a student asking fellow students at…Read More