State lawmakers act to protect free speech on college campuses

A measure designed to further protect free speech on public college campuses became law, generating national praise. House Bill 527—Restore/Preserve Campus Free Speech— became law after Governor Roy Cooper took no action on the bill for 30 days after it was passed by the General Assembly. The law, which was sponsored by Rep. Chris Millis (R-Pender) and Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe) and championed by Lt. Governor Dan Forest, directs the UNC Board of Governors to “adopt a policy on free expression” and to establish a committee on Free Expression.

“Today, with this bill becoming law, free speech will once again be restored and preserved,” stated Lt. Governor Dan Forest following the bill becoming law. “[This] new law ensures that our universities will follow the First Amendment and protect the rights of students, faculty, and guests to speak freely on all the issues of the day.”

There has been a rise in controversies on college campuses across the nation in recent years that have resulted in invited speakers cancelling events or not being allowed to speak due to threats or disruptive demonstrations. One example occurred in March, when a conservative political scientist and author was speaking at Middlebury College in Vermont, but was moved to another venue because he was being “shouted down by most of the more than 400 individuals packed into the room.” After the venue was moved, some of the protestors pushed and shoved the speaker as he was being escorted away, with some rocking and pounding on the speaker’s car and jumping onto the hood.

Campus free speech challenges have also occurred within North Carolina. Last April, NC State University was sued by one of its students for a policy that restricted free speech. The group of students alleged that he university was requiring them to obtain permits to hand out information or speak about their faith to people they didn’t know. The University  eventually changed its policy.

House Bill 527:

Directs the Board of Governors to “develop and adopt a policy on free expression” and to establish a “Committee on Free Expression,” that will report to the public, the Board of Governors, the Governor, and the General Assembly “any barriers to or disruptions of free expression” on public college campuses, along with a report on how those were handled.

Requires public universities to “include in freshmen orientation programs a section describing the policies regarding free expression.”

“Prevents administrators from disinviting speakers whom members of the campus community wish to hear from.”

The law passed the North Carolina House of Representatives by a vote of 80-31 and passed the North Carolina Senate by a vote of 34-11.