Tag Archives: Free Speech Zone

Missouri Gov. Signs Law Banning ‘Free Speech Zones’ On College Campuses

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed the Campus Free Expression Act (CAFE Act) into law on Tuesday, making Missouri the second state to prohibit public universities from limiting student speech to a designated “free speech zone.”

Senate Bill 93, which was created to “protect free expression on the campuses of public institutions of higher education,” designates that all outdoor areas of the campuses of public universities will be recognized as traditional public forums.”

The CAFE Act states that any individual may freely engage in “noncommercial expressive activity” as long as the individual’s conduct is “not unlawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the institution’s functioning.”

The act, which was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Ed Emery, also notes that universities “may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in service of a significant institutional interest” at times when such restrictions “employ clear, published, content and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression.”

“This act may be enforced in a court of competent jurisdiction by the attorney general or any person whose expressive rights were violated under this act,” Emery wrote. “A person may recover compensatory damages, reasonable court costs, and attorney fees.”

If a court finds an institution in violation of the new law, the CAFE Act states that it must award no less than $500 for the initial violation, and $50 for each day the violation continues.

Joe Cohn, the Legislative and Policy Director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said that while “one in six public colleges in the United States use free speech zones to restrict student speech,” the CAFE Act lets Missouri “statutorily ensure that its public colleges and universities will no longer be among them.”

FIRE noted that the CAFE Act received “overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate,” and was passed by a unanimous 34-0 vote before being passed in the House of Representatives.

Virginia became the first state to ban “free speech zones” on college campuses, when it enacted House Bill 258 in April 2014, which prohibits public universities from “imposing restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech that occurs in the outdoor areas of the institution’s campus and is protected by the First Amendment.”

“The fact of the matter remains that universities have a track record at silencing free speech, especially in cases that they disagree with,” said Republican state Rep. Rick Brattin, who handled the bill in the House.

Brattin told the Missouri Times that the CAFE Act became necessary when lawmakers discovered that the West Plains campus of Missouri State University designated a basketball court near the student rec center as its only free speech zone.

“Free speech is not a right or left issue,” Brattin said. “It’s an individual liberty and freedom we all hold dear to our heart. It’s sad that it comes to this point that we have to pass legislation to uphold these First Amendment rights.”

University Of Georgia Relaxes Free Speech Policies

The University of Georgia revised its policies regarding freedom of expression on campus and is no longer limiting demonstrations to two designated areas on the campus for students without a permit from the dean.

According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, previous policy had required students to obtain a permit from the administration 48 hours before assembling and demonstrating outside of assigned “free speech” areas only available on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The designated zones comprised less than one per cent of the university’s main campus in Athens. The revised policy that was released late last month requests that students provide 48 hours notice to reserve an area. “Spontaneous expressive activity” is also allowed if the number of demonstrators remains under ten individuals. If that number grows, the university states that notification should be provided to the dean of students or campus police.

In 2011, Young Americans For Liberty students set up a debt clock at UGA illustrating the rising national debt, and had placed it outside of the free speech zones. UGA officials ordered the students to stop the demonstration because they were violating the university’s free speech policy. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization, filed a lawsuit in 2014 on behalf of YAL arguing that the university’s free speech policies were unconstitutional. In light of UGA’s revised policy, YAL dropped their suit.

Alliance Defending Freedom praised the new policies, stating that “YAL can now speak more freely, host informational tables and displays, and use hand-held signs on campus outside the designated speech zones without fear of punishment from university officials. The university’s previous speech policy greatly restricted YAL’s activities and those of all other students and student groups on campus.”

While UGA has relaxed its free speech policies regarding demonstrations, the Athens Banner-Herald reported Wednesday that hoop skirts have been banned at UGA’s social events. Fraternity and sorority leaders, including those representing UGA chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Kappa Alpha fraternities, had reportedly called for the ban following the expulsion of University of Oklahoma SAE members for making racist chants caught on video.

Student Sues College Over “Free Speech Zone”

 Glendora, CA – Citrus Community College is one of many universities in the nation that contains a “Free Speech Area.” This area is a designated space on campus; where students can set up booths, hand out pamphlets, and host speeches concerning the things they are passionate about.

While expressing one’s views may be encouraged inside a “Free Speech Area,” it is not welcomed in the same way in other areas around campus. Vincenzo Sinapi-Riddle learned this lesson the hard way last year, when he started a petition against the National Security Agency’s spying program. According to Sinapi-Riddle, he was approached by an administrator, who warned him that he was outside of the designated zone and could be removed from campus.

It was shocking to me that there could be so much hostility about me talking to another student peacefully about government spying,” Sinapi-Riddle told the Los Angeles Times. “My vision of college was to express what I think.”

Sinapi-Riddle recently filed a lawsuit against the Citrus Community College District, with the intent to eliminate speech codes and any other policies that limit expression on campus. His lawsuit is sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that promotes free speech and due process rights at colleges and universities.

In addition to contesting the concept of the “Free Speech Area,” Sinapi-Riddle is also challenging the school’s anti-harassment policy, calling it “overly broad.” He added that although Citrus College eliminated all free speech zones after being sued in 2004, last year it “readopted in essence the unconstitutional policy it abandoned.

Sinapi-Riddle has the support of the First Amendment Center’s President, and Middle Tennessee State University’s Dean, Ken Paulson, who called the legal movement “right on the money and long overdue.”

Universities are scared of people who demand censorship – they’re afraid of lawsuits and PR problems,” said Robert Shibley, the Senior Vice President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “Unfortunately, they are more worried about that than about ignoring their First Amendment responsibilities.”