Florida's Old Capitol building in Tallahassee.

Florida's Old Capitol building in Tallahassee.

Florida becomes ninth state to ban restrictive campus free speech zones

By March 12, 2018

  • Florida State, University of West Florida, Florida Atlantic, and other schools must change speech policies

TALLAHASSEE, Mar. 12, 2018 — Yesterday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law SB 4, a broad higher education bill, which was amended to include free speech protections at the state’s public colleges and universities.

The new law prohibits Florida public colleges and universities from quarantining student expression into small, misleadingly labeled “free speech zones.” The campus free speech provisions are based on the CAFE Act model legislation from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“Students at public colleges and universities in Florida should not have their free speech quarantined by overly restrictive policies,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “Now that Florida’s Campus Free Expression Act is law, these egregious policies of censorship must be rescinded immediately.”

The bipartisan CAFE provision of the bill was sponsored by Reps. Chuck Clemons, Sr., Bob Rommel, and John Cortes, and Sen. Dennis Baxley, among others. SB 4 passed the Florida House of Representatives by a vote of 84-28 and the Florida Senate by a vote of 33-5. The law also provides a right to bring a lawsuit in state court against a public institution of higher education if the institution violates the expressive rights guaranteed by the bill.

Examples of Florida policies that must be revised now that the CAFE Act has been enacted include Florida State University’s policy that limits the distribution of literature to a small stretch of campus, Florida Atlantic University’s policy that requires students to submit materials to the Office of Student Development and Activities for approval before they can be displayed or distributed, and the University of West Florida’s policy that restricts speech to one area of campus and problematically declares, “The University does not contain any traditional public forum areas.”

Florida joins Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina and Tennessee as the ninth state to pass legislation banning public colleges and universities from relegating student expression to free speech zones. In addition, last month, United States Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced the federal Free Right to Expression in Education Act, which would prohibit public colleges and universities across the country from maintaining those restrictive zones.

“Thanks to this legislation, students at Florida’s colleges and universities can much more freely exercise their constitutional right to free speech,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “We’re hopeful that Congress will follow this example and act to uphold the First Amendment rights of America’s students.”

FIRE is ready and willing to help institutions revise their policies in light of the bill’s obligations. As always, we provide this service free of charge.

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; media@thefire.org

Schools: University of West Florida Florida State University Florida Atlantic University