Fans of free speech on campus in Missouri have something to get excited about: Legislators in both houses of the state’s legislature have introduced identical versions of the Campus Free Expression Act (CAFE Act). If enacted, the CAFE Act would prohibit public colleges and universities in the state from limiting speech and expressive activity to unconstitutionally restrictive “free speech zones.”
In recognition of the importance of free speech on college campuses, State Senator Ed Emery and State Representatives Rick Brattin and Mike Moon introduced SB 93, HB 408, and HB 436, which state in part:
The outdoor areas of campuses of public institutions of higher education in this state shall be deemed traditional public forums. Public institutions of higher education may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in service of a compelling institutional interest only when such restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any such restrictions shall allow for members of the university community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble.
The CAFE Act would be a tremendous step forward for free speech in the state of Missouri. The language in the legislation carefully tracks Supreme Court case law and will go a long way towards protecting free speech rights on Missouri’s public college and university campuses.
Last year, Virginia passed the first statute to prohibit public colleges and universities from restricting expression on campus to tiny free speech zones. FIRE is hopeful that Missouri will follow Virginia’s lead and become another champion for individual rights on campus. We’ll keep you updated as the bills proceed.