Montana Passes Legislation to Protect Free Speech of College Students
Last week, the Montana Senate unanimously voted to protect the First Amendment rights of students at public colleges and universities in the state by passing HB 218, legislation based on ALEC’s Forming open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act model policy. HB 218 will prohibit the public colleges and universities in Montana from establishing campus free speech zones, which are frequently utilized around the country to prohibit otherwise permissible and non-disruptive speech from students. In addition to abolishing the concept of free speech zones, HB 218 also requires schools to permit legal and non-disruptive first amendment activities in all publicly accessible outdoor areas of campus.
Free speech zones saw widespread adoption back in the 1980s and 1990s as a way for students to reserve a designated space on campus and express their views under the First Amendment to prevent disruption. Of course, the First Amendment does not contain any exceptions for college administrators to restrict freedom of speech on their campuses, and it is critical that college students are permitted to freely and openly speak on campus to foster the free exchange of ideas.
Campus free speech advocates also received a big win earlier in March, when the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Chike Uzuegbunam, a former student at Georgia Gwinnett College. Chike was attempting to hand out religious flyers on campus back in 2016, when a campus police officer asked him to stop and informed him of the school’s policy utilizing free speech zones. However, even when Chike complied and booked time in the free speech zone to continue handing out the flyers, campus police stopped him again and told him his activity was “disruptive” because other students were complaining. Chike took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, asking for nominal damages and a clear statement that his constitutional rights were violated, where he succeeded. In the future, even former college students will be allowed to sue their schools for first amendment violations, a decision that will further encourage these schools to permit the free expression of ideas on campus grounds.
To learn more about how you can protect the first amendment rights of college students in your state and encourage the free-flow of ideas, check out ALEC’s FORUM Act model policy.