This article appeared in The Huffington Post.
Q: How can a “free speech zone” on a college campus be a bad thing for free speech?
A: When it’s actually a backwards way of saying that more than 99 percent of that campus is a “censorship zone.”
As I’ve covered many times before on The Huffington Post, free speech zones on campus are usually a disaster for free speech, often banishing student protests, leafleting, and other basic expression (political or otherwise) to tiny areas far away from the students the speech is intended to reach. But amazingly, as many as one in six colleges maintain such free speech quarantines.
For those of you unfamiliar with the “free speech zone” phenomena, check out this video about the use, abuse, and ultimate demise of one such free speech zone at the University of Cincinnati:
Cases like this are why it’s such good news that late on Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that addresses the quarantining of free speech on Virginia campuses. The new law effectively designates outdoor areas of the state’s public campuses as “public forums” which are only subject to what are called “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.”
Students in Virginia might be surprised to know that the open areas on campus were not already public forums, but the Virginia state legislature has made it official. The bill, authored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously. My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), urged the passage of the bill, and FIRE’s own Joe Cohn testified on behalf of the legislation in hearings in both legislative houses. The ACLU of Virginia also advocated on behalf of the bill.
To my knowledge, this is the first statewide law of its kind. It should come as welcome news to students who have something to say in the state of Virginia.
Last fall, I ran a slideshow called “11 Student and Faculty Victories Over Campus ‘Free Speech Zones’,” but all of those were about individual campuses. Next time I will be more than happy to add the entire state of Virginia to the list.