State Senator William Ligon (R – St. Simons) filed legislation,SB 339, on Monday that would charge the state’s university/college boards of trustees with monitoring the administrative handling of free speech across Georgia.
The legislation was influenced by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank organization. According to the report from the Goldwater Institute, “the model bill offers to change the balance of forces contributing to the current baleful national climate for campus free speech.”
Last month, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) reported that over half of the 461 schools studied limited free speech in some way. Over 90 percent of the nation’s top colleges report some form of policy regulating free speech on campus.
Within that FIRE report, Georgia had two colleges that have significant restrictions on free speech, the University of North Georgia and Georgia Southern University. Other Georgia colleges and universities prohibited free speech in some fashion, and that included Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, University of Georgia, Valdosta State University, and the University of West Georgia. Most of Georgia’s institutions included in the report had some form of free speech zone on campus and have for many years.
In 2016, written messages in chalk were seen all over Emory University supporting presidential candidate Donald Trump. University officials released a statement expressing that students have the right to free speech, but the chalked messages should have been isolated to free-speech zones at the university. Furthermore, the University stated that those students would be subject to conduct violation policies.
State Senator Williams Ligon said the following about the legislation:
“Today’s higher education campuses are becoming politically correct speech zones. Speech codes on college campuses are violating the fundamental First Amendment rights of our students. Not only do these codes severely restrict the places on campus where students can exercise their free speech rights, they also unconstitutionally restrict the type of speech students can express.”
Sen. Ligon then pointed out that Georgia has not escaped this growing trend. “In the fall of 2017, Georgia had two state universities which earned the rebuke of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for such unconstitutional policy violations. The Georgia Legislature needs to ensure that our public colleges and universities protect the rights of all students and speakers to peacefully express their viewpoints without fear of being shouted down by protestors or reprimanded for what the administration deems as politically incorrect speech.”
Ligon’s legislation proposes the following –
- Involves the creation of an official campus policy that strongly affirms the importance of free expression.
- Students must be informed of the official policy on free expression.
- Prohibits the creation of restrictive speech codes.
- Disallows anti-free-speech demonstrations to deter visiting speakers.
- Sanctions for campus officials who interfere with the expression of others.
- Allows students a disciplinary hearing involving cases of expressive conduct and allows presentation of a defense.
- Allows individuals whose free-speech rights have been improperly infringed by the institution to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.
- An individual has right to bring a court case within one-year on the matter.
- Suspension of students who have a chronic history of infringing on other students free-speech rights.
- Institutions would be required to make every reasonable effort to make sure invited speakers are safe on campus and not charge security fees for content of the speech
- Fees shall not be charged for a public facility or charged for the content of the expressive speech. Nonpublic facilities may be restricted by invited individuals.
- Colleges cannot discriminate the free speech or the content of the speech of any student-lead organization.
- Individuals, students, and faculty can be allowed to speak on the issues of the day without penalty, but the college itself must remain neutral.
- Nullifies any policies in which the Board of Regents restricts free speech and instructs the Board of Regents to revise policies associated with limiting free speech.
- Board of Regents is required to create a Committee on Free Expression requiring reports to the public, the Governor, and General Assembly concerning free speech matters on Georgia campuses.
Ligon has strong co-sponsors of the bill which include Senator Lindsey Tippins who is chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Also, Senate President Pro Tempore, and current candidate for Lt. Governor, David Shafer is also a co-sponsor of the bill.
AllOnGeorgia reached out to the University System of Georgia for comment and they did not respond to the request.