NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 10, 2017 — Yesterday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Senate Bill 723, the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, a comprehensive law providing some of the country’s strongest protections for student and faculty speech on public college campuses. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is grateful to Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Eddie Smith for championing this legislation, and to Reps. Martin Daniel and John Ragan for initiating the conversation last year in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“FIRE is happy Tennessee legislators addressed so many of the concerns we have raised over the years with this legislation,” said FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “Protecting the free speech rights of students and faculty on public college campuses across Tennessee is an important victory for everyone who cares about the future of higher education.”
The new law has several provisions which will ensure that free speech thrives on public campuses throughout Tennessee. The law will:
- Require institutions to adopt policies consistent with the University of Chicago’s Free Speech Policy Statement;
- Prohibit the use of misleadingly labeled “free speech zones”;
- Define student-on-student harassment in a way that is consistent with the definition provided by the Supreme Court of the United States in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education;
- Bar institutions from rescinding invitations to speakers invited by students or faculty;
- Prohibit viewpoint discrimination in the allocation of student fees to student organizations; and
- Protect faculty from being punished for speech in the classroom, unless the speech is both “not reasonably germane to the subject matter of the class as broadly construed, and comprises a substantial portion of classroom instruction.”
The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Tennessee House of Representatives by a vote of 85-7, and prevailed on a unanimous 30-0 vote in the Senate.
“SB 723 is the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech on college campuses that we’ve seen be passed anywhere in the country,” said Robert Shibley, FIRE’s Executive Director. “It is gratifying to see the Tennessee legislature take decisive action to protect the expressive rights of students and faculty, especially in light of the number of restrictive speech codes across the country and the recent controversies over speech on campus.”
FIRE would be pleased to work with Tennessee’s public colleges and universities to eliminate unlawful restrictions on free speech in order to achieve compliance with the new law. Administrators may contact FIRE for free assistance, in keeping with FIRE’s charitable mission.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org