By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org
Yesterday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Senate Bill 723, the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, a comprehensive law providing some of the country’s strongest protections for student and faculty speech on public college campuses. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is grateful to Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Eddie Smith for championing this legislation, and to Reps. Martin Daniel and John Ragan for initiating the conversation last year in the Tennessee General Assembly.
In the face of over 450 campuses with speech codes that threaten the First Amendment, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has acted to protect free speech and freedom of expression on campuses. The vast majority of speech codes have been enacted to thwart conservative thought, Christian values and an appreciation of America’s heritage. In addition to speech codes, radical leftist student organizations have prevented dozens of conservative speakers from addressing students on many campuses most notably Berkeley.
“FIRE is happy Tennessee legislators addressed so many of the concerns we have raised over the years with this legislation,” said FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “Protecting the free speech rights of students and faculty on public college campuses across Tennessee is an important victory for everyone who cares about the future of higher education.”
The new law has several provisions which will ensure that free speech thrives on public campuses throughout Tennessee. The law will:
- Require institutions to adopt policies consistent with the University of Chicago’s Free Speech Policy Statement;
- Prohibit the use of misleadingly labeled “free speech zones”;
- Define student-on-student harassmentin a way that is consistent with with the definition provided by the Supreme Court of the United States in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education;
- Bar institutions from rescinding invitations to speakersinvited by students or faculty;
- Prohibit viewpoint discrimination in the allocation of student fees to student organizations; and
- Protect faculty from being punished for speech in the classroom, unless the speech is both “not reasonably germane to the subject matter of the class as broadly construed, and comprises a substantial portion of classroom instruction.”
The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Tennessee House of Representatives by a vote of 85-7, and prevailed on a unanimous 30-0 vote in the Senate.
“SB 723 is the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech on college campuses that we’ve seen be passed anywhere in the country,” said Robert Shibley, FIRE’s Executive Director. “It is gratifying to see the Tennessee legislature take decisive action to protect the expressive rights of students and faculty, especially in light of the number of restrictive speech codes across the country and the recent controversies over speech on campus.”
FIRE would be pleased to work with Tennessee’s public colleges and universities to eliminate unlawful restrictions on free speech in order to achieve compliance with the new law. Administrators may contact FIRE for free assistance, in keeping with FIRE’s charitable mission.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
It’s time other states move to protect the First Amendment at State Schools. Private school have more latitude than state schools to control speech, but they do not have a right to Federal funding if they repress freedom of expression.