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Is North Carolina the country’s best state for campus free speech?

By June 29, 2017

This week, with the addition of East Carolina University to our list of “green light” schools, the state of North Carolina gained its sixth green light institution — two more than any other state in the country. Those six schools represent a significant chunk out of the 33 current green light institutions nationwide.

East Carolina University is the Tar Heel state’s fourth university in just the past two months to earn FIRE’s highest rating for free speech. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte earned the same rating last week, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina Central University both earned green light status in May. Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill continue to earn FIRE’s highest rating for campus free speech.

FIRE Policy Reform Program Officer Laura Beltz worked with these recent green light inductees to revise campus speech policies that weren’t in line with the First Amendment.

Some of the interest in reforming speech codes in North Carolina stems from House Bill 527, the “Restore/Preserve Campus Free Speech” bill. The bill instructs colleges and universities in the state not to “shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment, including, without limitation, ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” Among other requirements, the bill provides that students and faculty shall be permitted to assemble and engage in “spontaneous expressive activity” as long as such expression does not interfere with other university functions and activities. This provision essentially eliminates mandatory pre-approval or registration requirements for student demonstrations on campus, an element of many restrictive “free speech zone” policies.

Coming in a close second to North Carolina, Pennsylvania has four green light institutions, while Indiana and Virginia each have three institutions.

FIRE is thrilled with the progress in North Carolina and we look forward to working with colleges and universities across the country to bring more campus policies in line with the First Amendment.

Check out your alma mater’s rating within FIRE’s Spotlight Speech Codes Database. If your school has restrictive speech codes or it isn’t living up to its free speech promises, get in touch with FIRE.