Florida Democrats howled after the state's House and Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday that includes a provision outlawing "free speech zones" on college campuses, the Gainsville Sun reported.
The sweeping higher education bill, should it become law, bans colleges from creating “free speech zones” — typically very tiny areas designated as the sole spots on campus where people can speak out, though often only after receiving prior approval.
The bill also would prohibit “students, faculty or staff from from materially disrupting scheduled or reserved speeches,” the paper said, adding that students can sue colleges if they believe their free speech rights have been violated by such disruptions.
“I’ve received thousands and thousands of calls from students that feel that their right to speak freely where they want to in outside areas has been infringed upon and how can they stand up to the big university when they’re just a student struggling to get by,” State Rep. Bob Rommel — a Naples Republican who spearheaded the bill in the House — told the paper.
What did Florida Democrats have to say about the bill?
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) tried to strip the free speech zone language from the House bill, the Sun reported, as it would provide “white supremacists” and “neo Nazis” with a way to suppress protesters — but his effort failed.
State Rep. John Cortes (D) said “you guys destroyed the bill” by attaching Rommel’s free speech zone language, the paper added.
“This bill here I enthusiastically supported before it went over to the House,” state Sen. Perry Thurston (D) told the Sun, adding that “the process by which it’s coming back and being presented to us to accept it with this other language is just disturbing and gives me heartburn.”
The House approved the bill 84-28, the paper said, while the Senate approved the revised legislation 33-5. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's desk.
What's been happening with free speech zones at colleges across the country?
- The Virginia Community College System in 2014 agreed to pay an evangelical Christian student $25,000 after he said he was forced to stop preaching — and officials eliminated the college system's free speech zone policy.
- Also in 2014, Southern Oregon University officials threatened to call police on students handing out the U.S. Constitution on campus because they refused to do so in the school’s free speech area.
- Georgia Gwinnett College in 2016 halted a Christian student’s religious speech in a campus free-speech zone, citing his evangelizing as “disorderly conduct,” a federal lawsuit stated.
- A prayer session was nixed on the campus of Clemson University in 2016 because it wasn’t taking place in a free-speech zone and the man initiating it wasn’t a student and hadn’t filled out proper paperwork.
- In 2018, Young Americans for Liberty sued the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, contending the school restricts free speech to just one hour per day at a location that amounts to 1 percent of campus grounds.
- A professor at California State University, Fresno, in 2017 was ordered to pay $17,000 after he was caught on video erasing students’ pro-life chalk messages. The professor claimed the messages in question only should appear in a designated “free speech area” and that “college campuses are not free speech areas.” The problem? Fresno State doesn’t have a free speech area.
Here's a 2016 report about a Florida college that took steps to make its entire campus a free speech zone:
(H/T: Washington Times)