Callin’ Baton Rouge: New Louisiana laws protect student free speech and due process rights

June 27, 2022

BATON ROUGE, La., June 27, 2022 — Today, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law HB 185, a bill that codifies important free speech protections for public college students in the state. This comes on the heels of Edwards signing HB 364 on June 15, which provides critical due process protections for students.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression advised Louisiana legislators as they drafted each bill, in addition to supporting both bills as they progressed through the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“This is a huge win for students, who for too long have had to check fundamental speech and due process rights at the campus gate,” said FIRE Senior Legislative Counsel Tyler Coward. “Students at Louisiana’s public colleges and universities can now feel more confident that their speech rights will remain protected by their institutions and that they will be guaranteed a fair process when charged with wrongdoing.”

HB 185 makes important revisions to Louisiana’s existing campus free speech law. Among its provisions, the law: 

  • adopts the speech-protective definition of student-on-student harassment set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which defines student-on-student harassment as conduct “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit”;
  • prevents colleges from charging security fees to students and student organizations based on the content of their expression or the anticipated reaction to an invited guest’s speech; and
  • draws the correct line between unprotected conduct that causes a “material and substantial disruption” and protected demonstrations and counterprotests by barring institutions from restricting conduct if it “is protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution of Louisiana.”

Meanwhile, HB 364 sets forth an array of procedural protections for public college students and student organizations facing a suspension of 10 or more days. These include:

  • the express presumption of innocence;
  • the right to the active assistance of an attorney or advisor during all stages of the campus disciplinary process;
  • the right to cross-examination;
  • advanced notice of charges, and specific details about the facts giving rise to them;
  • reasonable, continuous access to the administrative file and all of the evidence in the institution’s possession, including evidence that might demonstrate the accused’s innocence; and
  • impartiality from the hearing panel, including a prohibition against one person filling multiple roles during the adjudication process.

During a legislative hearing on the bill, Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, called the bill’s provision on active assistance of an attorney or advisor “a healthy, healthy thing for students.”

“With these measures, Louisiana has taken substantial steps to ensure that no student’s education is cut short because of unfair disciplinary proceedings, and that their free speech rights will be protected from the day they enroll to the day they graduate,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “Every state that has not yet done so should follow Louisiana’s lead to protect free speech and due process.”

FIRE is thankful to Rep. Charles Owen for introducing HB 185, to Rep. Scott McKnight for introducing HB 364, and to Gov. Edwards for signing these important bills.

As we have already done with dozens of institutions across the country, FIRE stands ready to assist Louisiana colleges as they revise their policies in light of the laws’ requirements. This work is performed free of charge to institutions or taxpayers in accordance with FIRE’s charitable mission.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought—the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.

CONTACT:

Nico Perrino, Senior Vice President of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org