As primary season approaches, all eyes will be on New Hampshire, including FIRE’s. But our interest in the Granite State is unrelated to presidential politics. Instead, we will be eagerly watching state lawmakers as they consider new, FIRE-backed legislation that would protect the rights of New Hampshire college students.
As we recently reported, Representatives Frank Edelblut and Alan Turcotte have introduced HR 1561, the Campus Free Expression Act (CAFE), which would prohibit public institutions of higher education from quarantining speech and expressive activity into restrictive and misleadingly labeled “free speech zones.” The CAFE Act passed this summer in Missouri with broad bipartisan support, and similar legislation passed overwhelmingly in Virginia in 2014.
On Sunday, speaking on the importance of the New Hampshire legislation, the editorial board of Manchester’s The Union Leader had this to say:
The FIRE bill would clarify that outdoor areas on state universities are public spaces, and school officials are not permitted to suppress speech based on its content.
The First Amendment already protects speech at public universities, so Edelblut’s bill shouldn’t be necessary. But it is, so long as colleges put political correctness ahead of intellectual debate.
The Union Leader is right. Legislation like the CAFE Act should not be necessary. But given that roughly one in six of the colleges and universities surveyed in our latest speech code report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2016: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses, maintains restrictive “free speech zones,” the necessity of legislation could not be more certain.
We look forward to updating you on the bill’s progress in the new year.