Florida bans ‘free speech zones’ at state colleges

By Kyle Perisic | The Daily Signal

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law a bill banning so-called “free speech zones” at public universities and allowing students and speakers to sue the schools for violating their First Amendment rights.

Wikimedia Commons/Brandt Luke Zorn

“This area has been set aside for individuals or groups exercising their constitutional first amendment rights.”

Free speech zones are limited areas, sometimes only fractions of a campus, where students may express themselves freely. Critics argue that an entire campus should allow free speech, not small and restrictive areas.

The legislation, called the Excellence in Higher Education Act, reads: “A public institution of higher education may not designate any area of campus as a free speech zone or otherwise create policies restricting expressive activities to a particular outdoor area of campus.”

Students, faculty, and staff of a public institution of higher education may not “materially disrupt previously scheduled or reserved activities on campus occurring at the same time,” the new law says.

Scott, a Republican, signed the bill Sunday.

“No one has a right to shut down speech simply because it makes someone feel uncomfortable,” state Senate President Joe Negron, a Republican who made passage of the bill a top priority, said in a press release.

“Florida’s universities will continue to achieve national distinction because they are training our students to articulate and defend their ideas in an open, responsible way that prepares them for the real world.”

Supporters of the legislation pointed to the riots in February 2017 at the University of California, Berkeley, when demonstrators prevented libertarian commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, a Florida resident, from speaking on campus. Berkeley spent nearly $800,000 on security.

The Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting free speech on public universities, supports the law.

Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director of FIRE, told Campus Reform: “Students shouldn’t have their free speech rights quarantined into misleadingly labeled free-speech zones, and unfortunately public institutions in Florida are doing just that.”

The “cause of action” clause in the new Florida law says:

A person whose expressive rights are violated by an action prohibited under this section may bring an action against a public institution of higher education in a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief, reasonable court costs, and attorney fees.

The Florida American Civil Liberties Union supported the bill except for the cause-of-action provision.

Although lawmakers removed a provision on compensatory damages, Florida ACLU spokeswoman Gaby Guadalupe told Campus Reform, the law will allow someone to sue a university, students, and faculty “for students booing too loud or too long in reserved spaces on campus.”

Cohn said the state ACLU affiliate is “wrong” about that, unlike other affiliates, but his group looks forward to “working with them on issues of common ground.”

The new law “ensures that our taxpayer-funded college and university campuses remain open for the free, safe, and respectful expression of differing points of view,” Negron said. “Dating back to antiquity, institutions of higher education have served as a forum for free speech and the open exchange of ideas.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Brandt Luke Zorn

3 thoughts on “Florida bans ‘free speech zones’ at state colleges

  1. This entanglement starts with the Congress and their ‘failure’ to produce a budget. Instead four people control the spending for the Country via those CR’s. In the Budget there isn’t any room for the Dept. of ED and several other favorite faux entitlement programs.

    No Dept of ED and the funding for the Colleges and Universities falls back onto the States. Many of the mandates simply disappear, grant programs dry up and the funding for the pointy headed Progressive faculty sheds many of those idiot “Studies” programs. They may still be offered but the tuition won’t be free or cheap.

    That removes the ability for the students to pressure the Admin to keep and enhance those Lefty causes since the funding will face outside pressure to conform to more traditional values. Why they may even start requiring and teaching Western Civ.

    If you want to change the educational system you need to get Congress to change what it is doing.

  2. Peter , you are correct the liberals have figured how to Indoctrinate our KIDS at a
    very young age ( child abuse ) .

    The they get a second dose when in College ( Shameful ) wait until these snowflakes
    get out into the real world !!

    If they don’t like the the US and the Constitution, maybe they should all move to a
    real Socialist Country ………………let see how that will work for them ….Idiots ..

  3. The National Park Service goes along with this? Parent who are paying for their kids education are OK with this? Trustees of the college are OK with this? Alum donators are OK with this? Folks, if you have kids at this school GET THEM OUT!! This is NOT a college that is educating your child; they are indoctrinating them. THIS IS COMMUNISM!!!!

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