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Goldwater Institute Releases Model Campus Free Speech Legislation for States

By January 31, 2017

Today in Washington, D.C., the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based think tank and policy organization, released Campus Free Speech: A Legislative Proposal, which (as one might guess) offers proposed state legislation to protect free speech on campus. The legislative proposal is accompanied by a thorough report explaining the reasoning behind the bill. As FIRE followers know, FIRE has also been working with legislators to encourage the adoption of state laws protecting free speech on campus, such as the one signed into law in Missouri in 2015.

While most people understandably think of the First Amendment when it comes to freedom of speech, both on campus and off, states also have a role to play in protecting students’ free speech, especially at public institutions, and FIRE is always happy to see them take a constitutionally sound role in doing so. The Goldwater legislation, authored primarily by Stanley Kurtz, James Manley, and Jonathan Butcher, is a worthy proposal for consideration by members of state legislatures and the public.

I encourage readers to head over to Goldwater’s website and read the description of the bill. We’re pleased to see that the bill would eliminate many existing campus speech codes, prevent administrators from disinviting speakers whom students invite to campus, and explicitly allow students who have been censored to bring lawsuits for damages and attorneys’ fees when schools violate the law.

The model legislation does differ from FIRE’s preferences in some ways. For instance, FIRE believes students should have access to the active assistance of counsel in most disciplinary cases, as opposed to only those with a potential penalty of greater than 30 days’ suspension or those involving expressive conduct. The bill draft also addresses a few items about which FIRE does not take a position, and which FIRE would therefore not address through its own efforts. But there is little doubt that passage of this model legislation would represent a real improvement in free speech protections in states that do not already include such protections in state law.

Free speech on campus is a nonpartisan concern with broad public support. It is our hope that the efforts of the Goldwater Institute and other organizations will help focus the attention of a growing number of lawmakers on this critical issue.