South Dakota bans campus ‘free speech zones’

March 21, 2019

PIERRE, S.D., Mar. 21, 2019 — Yesterday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law HB 1087, which will codify free speech protections for students at South Dakota’s public colleges and universities. The law prohibits South Dakota public colleges and universities from quarantining student expression into small, misleadingly labeled “free speech zones.”

South Dakota joins Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas as the 13th state to pass legislation banning public colleges and universities from relegating student expression to free speech zones.

“Free speech zones send the false and illiberal message that a student’s First Amendment rights are dangerous, and should be constrained within tiny, pre-approved areas of campus,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “We commend legislators in South Dakota for recognizing the critical importance of free speech to higher education, and encourage other states to follow their lead.”

HB 1087 also prevents institutions of higher education from discriminating “against any student or student organization based on the content or viewpoint of their expressive activity.” The law guarantees that funds distributed to student organizations are allocated in a nondiscriminatory manner. It further states that belief-based student organizations are free to maintain policies that require leaders or members of the organization to “affirm and adhere to the organization’s sincerely held beliefs.”

“HB 1087 is an important step toward ensuring no viewpoints are silenced at public institutions in South Dakota,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “By enacting this legislation, South Dakota is standing up for all students who wish to speak their minds freely on campus.”

According to FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019 report, approximately 10 percent of top colleges nationwide maintain a free speech zone, despite the fact that the practice violates the First Amendment. Free speech zones have been repeatedly struck down by courts or voluntarily revised by colleges as part of settlements to lawsuits brought by students. Eight cases in FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project have included successful challenges to free speech zone policies.

FIRE stands ready to assist institutions as they revise their policies in light of the law’s requirements.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org