Alabama governor signs campus free speech bill into law

Alabama governor signs campus free speech bill into law

Alabama's governor signed a bill into law Thursday that would stop colleges and universities in the state from limiting free expression and student speech to select areas designated on campus as "free speech zones."

The Republican-sponsored bill would prohibit public universities in the state from establishing the so-called "free speech zones," which supporters of the bill say effectively limit full freedom of speech for students to designated areas of the schools, according to ALReporter.

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Free speech zones, which have been touted by some as ways to allow students to express a variety of opinions, often require school faculty to be notified in advance and approve demonstrations in the zones. Critics say such a process places an undue burden on students.

Most Alabama colleges opposed the bill, the outlet reported.

"The public institution of higher education shall not permit members of the campus community to engage in conduct that materially and substantially disrupts another person’s protected expressive activity or infringes on the rights of others to engage in or listen to a protected expressive activity that is occurring in a location that has been reserved for that protected expressive activity," the bill states, according to ALReporter.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Matt Fridy (R), called such efforts by universities "unfair" attempts to crack down on viewpoints they disagree with.

“I commend Governor Ivey for signing this important bill into law. Alabama’s university campuses should be places where ideas are freely debated and students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints. Unfortunately, across the nation—occasionally even here in Alabama—college administrators have used unfair, arbitrary speech codes to silence speech that is deemed ‘offensive.’ Oftentimes, politically and religiously conservative groups are targeted," Fridy told ALReporter.

Democratic state Rep. Napoleon Bracy opposed the bill, saying that university administrators should focus on the safety of students on campus and citing concerns that certain speech could incite violence in some students, according to the outlet. State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D) said only alt-right speakers have been denied the opportunity to speak on university grounds.

Bracy said college administrators should be able to determine which speakers are allowed to accept invitations to speak at their institutions, according to the outlet.