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North Carolina passes campus free-speech law

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North Carolina has become the latest state to adopt a campus free speech law. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

North Carolina passed a campus free-speech bill last week that will allow sanctions for students who disrupt the free speech of others. The move made the Tarheel State the fifth state to add such a law to the books.

The legislation affords students the right to pass out literature in outdoor areas on campus and limits the disruption of others' free speech. It also forbids school administrators from disinviting speakers on campus.

According to Stanley Kurtz, a writer for National Review and one of the co-authors of the proposal, the law will force universities to create a sanctions protocol to follow when students are found suppressing the free speech of others. The Board of Regents will also be tasked with creating a special committee that will be responsible for issuing a yearly report detailing the administrative handling of free speech issues.

Kurtz wrote of the new law:

It prevents administrators from disinviting speakers whom members of the campus community wish to hear from. It establishes a system of disciplinary sanctions for students and anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others, and ensures that students will be informed of those sanctions at freshman orientation. It reaffirms the principle that universities, at the official institutional level, ought to remain neutral on issues of public controversy to encourage the widest possible range of opinion and dialogue within the university itself. And it authorizes a special committee created by the Board of Regents to issue a yearly report to the public, the regents, the governor, and the legislature on the administrative handling of free-speech issues.

While Kurtz applauded the passing of the bill, he did point out an area of the proposal that was weakened by opposition.

"[T]he provision that would have mandated suspension for students twice found responsible for silencing others was struck," he wrote. "Without the mandatory suspension for a second offense, the university could conceivably undermine the law through lax enforcement."

The final version of HB527, the North Carolina Restore Campus Free Speech Act, was passed in the House by a margin of 80-31, with 10 Democrats crossing the aisle to vote alongside Republicans. In the Senate, however, the vote passed by 34-11 with no Democratic support. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper took no action on the bill, thereby passively allowing its enactment.

North Carolina joins four other states with similar campus free speech laws: Colorado, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia.

Several states are currently reviewing proposed legislation on the issue, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin.

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