Lifezette: Georgia Passes Law Protecting Free Speech on Campus

Originally posted at Lifezette.

States across the country are finally waking up to the realization that college campuses have, time and again, used such heavy-handed Orwellian tactics as free speech zones and security fees payable by students for conservative speakers to limit the freedom of expression of conservatives.

What is a free speech zone, anyway? A great example comes out of the story of Kevin Shaw, a student at Pierce College in Los Angeles, who in 2016 was stopped from handing out Spanish-language copies of the Constitution around campus. Shaw was told he needed to keep his activities confined to a small slice of campus — the “free-speech zone.”

In all, 24 states have either introduced or passed legislation defending freedom of speech on public college campuses, according to Campus Reform — with Georgia now the 10th state to ban free speech zones on campus.

Senate Bill 339, signed into law by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recently, guarantees the exercise of free speech at all college locations — not confined zones.

The purpose is “to assure that each such institution does not shield students, staff, or individuals on campus from speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, including ideas and opinions which such students, staff, or individuals on campus find unwelcoming, disagreeable, or even offensive,” the bill reads.

The new bill also requires state colleges and universities to submit annual reports documenting incidents that involve any disruption or violation of the free speech rights by one individual of another individual on campus, as well as the actions the campus administration takes to discipline individuals responsible for the free speech violations.

The Trump administration has also made free speech a signature issue.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has warned that free speech codes at American universities are turning colleges into “an echo chamber of political and homogeneous thought, a shelter for fragile egos,” according to NBC News.

To be sure, Georgia’s new law is long overdue, according to Bill Becker, the Los Angeles-based president and CEO of Freedom X, a nonprofit law firm that supports conservative causes.

In February, Becker, acting as the attorney for the University of Washington College Republicans, filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the security fee is unconstitutional and violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“Public universities throughout the country have evolved into ideological reservations for left-wing interests, behaving somewhat like the Jacobins during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, whenever conservative thought dares to invade its protected terrain,” Becker told LifeZette.

“Since at least the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, universities have been on direct notice that viewpoint discrimination is unconstitutional,” he added.

Still, legal precedent doesn’t always lead to enforcement, or even practical application. One hopes this new law will shake things up and allow conservatives unfettered expression of shared values.

Related: Conservative Campus Groups Felt Threatened Over Free Speech Conference

“This bill simply codifies existing law in such a way as to say: ‘There will be consequences for violating an individual’s freedom of speech on college campuses. We mean it. We really, really mean it,'” said Becker.

“It accomplishes little else except to impose an annual reporting requirement subject to state oversight. That might be enough to alter campus culture,” he noted.

Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more at Lifezette.


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