Georgia becomes 9th state to pass free speech legislation

Adam Sabes

Adam Sabes Mississippi Senior Campus Correspondent
 
  • Gov. Nathan Deal made Georgia the ninth state in the country to pass campus free speech legislation last week, signing a bill that outlaws “free speech zones” and requires policies guaranteeing freedom of speech on public campuses.
  • A similar bill has passed the Senate in Louisiana, but faces a potential obstacle from Gov. John Bel Edwards, who vetoed a previous version of the bill that he considered “overly burdensome.”

Georgia has become the ninth state in the country to pass free speech legislation, and Louisiana might not be far behind if the legislature can mollify gubernatorial concerns.

Last week, Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed Senate Bill 339, which makes it illegal for any public university in the state to have a so-called “free speech zone,” as the bill states that students are permitted to engage in “spontaneous expressive activity.

“While FIRE is generally pleased that SB 339 has become law in Georgia, we think that there are amendments that should be offered when the legislature reconvenes next year.”   

Additionally, the bill clears a path for publicly funded institutions of higher education to discipline those who attempt to disrupt a “previously scheduled event,” such as a speaker or a classroom environment.

The bill also would require that the Georgia Board of Regents craft a free speech policy that, among others, assure that universities do not bar students, staff, or individuals from engaging in protected speech, as well as requiring the Board to submit an annual report to the Governor and members of the General Assembly summarizing the state of free speech on Georgia college campuses.

[RELATED: MAP: 24 states have now proposed campus free speech bills]

Joe Cohn, a legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) told Campus Reform that FIRE is “generally pleased” that Georgia has passed free speech legislation, but still has some reservations about the new law.

“While FIRE is generally pleased that SB 339 has become law in Georgia, we think that there are amendments that should be offered when the legislature reconvenes next year to ensure that the bill lives up to its intention of promoting free speech for all,” said Cohn. “For example, we will be asking lawmakers in next year’s session to provide more clarity about when protests lose their statutory protection because they are disruptive.”

FIRE is, however, grateful that the bill does not mandate “minimum punishments” for students who disrupt speeches on campus, as Cohn stated that the punishment should be decided by the school, after a thorough investigation is performed.

[RELATED: Utah Senator introduces bill to ban ‘free speech zones’]

Others, though, are less pleased with SB 339, fretting that some provisions might actually serve to stifle speech. More here: https://www.campusreform.org/?ID=10903