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Georgia's Campus Free Speech Bill Protects Some Students' Rights, May Threaten Others

State senator proposes mandatory minimums for repeat First Amendment violators.

Kevin Jenco/FlickrKevin Jenco/FlickrEariler this week, Georgia State Sen. William Ligon, a Republican, introduced the Campus Free Speech Act, a bill designed to uphold students' First Amendment freedoms. Following a year in which there were plenty of campus speech meltdowns, this bill attempts to address the growing resistance to a free and open campus, though it also creates new concerns.

The bill, which is based on the Goldwater Model, would require universities to take action against students who shut down speakers. Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and co-author of the Goldwater proposal upon which this bill was based, feels strongly about this specific bill.

"The Georgia bill and the Goldwater model that inspired it aims to secure campus free-speech in the most balanced and comprehensive way possible," said Kurtz in an email to Reason. "It's often forgotten that the principle of institutional neutrality is a pillar of campus free-speech. Universities should resist the temptation to take official institutional stands on political controversies... the Goldwater proposal is the only model to affirm this principle of institutional neutrality."

In addition to requiring universities to create a policy on free speech, wherein universities must "strive to ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression," they must also agree that "it is not the proper role of the institution to shield individuals from speech" and that their protection must also extend to speech which some may "find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive."

The bill protects public demonstrations, provided that they do not "materially and substantially" infringe upon the rights of others. Campuses must be open to any speaker who is invited by student groups or faculty members, and these speakers must be given the same terms. Universities also may not charge a security fee based on the content of the invitee's speech (something Berkeley tried in the past).

Students who break these policies are entitled to certain due process rights that are spelled out in the document, but the bill states that "any student who has twice been found responsible for infringing upon the expressive rights of others shall be suspended for a minimum of one year or expelled."

Joe Cohn, the Legislative and Policy Director at Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said FIRE is troubled by this aspect of the proposal.

"We are always concerned about mandatory punishments that do not take into account individual culpability," said Cohn in an interview with Reason. "There is a difference between someone who has gotten in trouble for counter protesting as a freshman and then again as a senior, three credits shy of graduating, and someone who gave a professor a concussion at a rally."

This bill comes after a series of incidents involving Georgia state schools. In 2017, the University of North Georgia's former Student Code of Conduct was given FIRE's harshest rating—red—for substantially burdening free speech.

"We are glad speech speech codes are being addressed, and we will be watching and engaging in the process as this bill moves through legislation," Cohn says.

Photo Credit: Kevin Jenco - Flickr

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  • Hugh Akston||

    So he wants to protect one part of the First Amendment by criminalizing another part? Seems legit.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Which part of the First Amendment is he criminalizing?

  • Barbara Yarhead||

    The only thing that could be construed as limiting is the wording around demonstrations. Counter demonstrators might be subject to litigation.

    This is not really a free speech issue. The legislation (really not even necessary if existing law was respected) should have been limited to speakers in buildings.

    Whether this infringes on free speech depends on your definition of it. If free speech means being able to scream incessantly at those with which you disagree, this limits it. If free speech means allowing those with different opinions the same respect you would expect, then this limits nothing.

    Some people forget that an important benefit of free speech is listening. It's not a requirement, it's a feature.

  • mortiscrum||

    RE: Whether this infringes on free speech depends on your definition of it. If free speech means being able to scream incessantly at those with which you disagree, this limits it. If free speech means allowing those with different opinions the same respect you would expect, then this limits nothing.

    This is an important distinction. I fall much more in to the latter category: free speech shouldn't protect harassing behavior. If someone wants to stand on a street corner and scream about something they feel passionate about, go for it. However, they shouldn't be allowed to follow someone around while screaming. That's harassment, and the target of the abuse should have some recourse to not be screamed at.

  • Longtobefree||

    The trend of passing laws to say the constitution is right continues - - - - - -

  • Rhywun||

    Seriously. This law is not necessary, people.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    It's necessary if you want me to feel good.

  • Social Justice is neither||

    Sadly we're at a time where free speech is being pushed to mean "free to say things I agree with" or be punished. This law should not be necessary but probably is.

    I don't see anything in the reporting that is overly concerning, but the devil is in the details. Allowing counterprotests but attempting to shut down the heckler's veto isn't an attack on free speech, it's an attempt to allow actual speech instead of incoherent noise.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    If a public university has a regulation that prohibits a student, or faculty member, from saying anything that a person of a protected class deems offensive, it may be necessary. That or you take the university to federal court on the basis of constitutional issue.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Without enforcement the Constitution & BOR are just ink on paper.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Just read on article from theweek.com titled "Americas Constition is terrible' let's throw it out and start over." As has been commented many times, The Onion is no longer parody.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    "We are always concerned about mandatory punishments that do not take into account individual culpability," said Cohn in an interview with Reason. "There is a difference between someone who has gotten in trouble for counter protesting as a freshman and then again as a senior, three credits shy of graduating, and someone who gave a professor a concussion at a rally."

    Bona fide counter-protesting would not run afoul of the law, so not sure where that concern is coming from. If this part weren't in the bill, the unis would just let the speech-squelchers off with a slap in the wrist and we would be back at square one.

    What does concern me is that some influential idiots consider "offensive" speech an ipso facto infringement on other's freedom of expression, since the offended persons may feel "unsafe" or "uncomfortable" to express themselves. Does the bill clearly define what infringement on freedom of expression is, to remove the possibility of the uni interpreting it in a crazy way?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Bona fide counter-protesting would not run afoul of the law

    Because no one in authority would every misuse a law to selectively target their political opponents.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    University authorities are already misusing their authority to selectively target their political opponents.

  • Ben of Houston||

    So we should not give them an excuse.

  • DajjaI||

    In fact counter demonstrators have as much free speech rights as the people they are protesting. I know this seems counter intuitive, but in practice it works out fine. The idiots at the Shakespeare in the Park last summer were summarily booted out, and ended up vindicating the performance. I think people who yelled at Trump during his Nazi rallies will be remembered as heroes. Of course you can't physically stop people from speaking, and you must be NONVIOLENT as they drag you out. But we must protect the speech rights on BOTH sides.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Freedom of speech does not imply a right to an audience, and in particular it does not imply the right to steal someone else's audience. If an audience is gathered to listen to a speaker that is not you, you do NOT have a first amendment right to shout him down.

  • DajjaI||

    Fascinating! Please, continue:

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Is that an HTML tag screw-up or a vain attempt to be sarcastically condescending while not actually having an argument for your position?

  • DajjaI||

    You are doing a wonderful job of stealing my audience and shouting me down and thereby proving my point, despite yourself. Please, don't stop now:

  • Barbara Yarhead||

    So if your snark is triggering, I must have the right to fill your brains with lead.

    Not logical? Maybe one of us has missed a point.

  • DajjaI||

    At the risk of being banned again by Reason - I CONDEMN YOUR THREATS AGAINST ME.

  • ThomasD||

    Someone doesn't know why there is a difference between slander and libel.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Shouting?

    Threats?

  • Finrod||

    Because our replying to your comments is keeping other people from reading your comments.

    Fuck off, slaver.

  • Ben of Houston||

    Stealing your audience? This is a public forum for debate. You post something, there is a counterpoint. It's not rocket science.

    A more comparable situation would be if I was to edit your post to delete half your comment and deny people who wish to hear your point the ability to do so. That is crossing the line.

  • Rebel Scum||

    OT: Nancy Pelosi is a nasty woman.

    "There's a cartoon that I just love," Pelosi said, according to the Washington Free Beacon. "There's a little mouse trap who's got a little piece of cheese on there, and there's a mouse about to take it and that's called the middle class … And around it are fat cats."..."In terms of the bonus that corporate America received versus the crumbs that they are giving workers to kind of put the schmooze on is so pathetic,"

    Insulting middle and lower income people is a good strategy. Stick to it.

  • Rebel Scum||

    And then there's Bill Kristol:

    Write $1,000 checks to people? Wasn't the whole point of the tax cut to free up money for investment? I mean, the government can just write checks to people. It doesn't have to go through a middleman, you know. Give 'em to everyone, not just the people who work for certain favored companies.

    I found it slightly creepy — sucking up to Trump and to the Trump administration in hope of favors. This is the classic limited government, Hayek, et cetera, argument for why you don't want protectionism. You don't want government meddling and interfering everywhere, picking winners and picking companies.

    I don't think words mean what he thinks they mean. There's a middleman when a company keeps more of its own money and gives it to its employees? The corporate cuts were targeted to specific companies? O_o

  • Sevo||

    "...It doesn't have to go through a middleman, you know...."

    Agreed. I'll just keep all my money and cut the government out if it entirely.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    It is hilarious that he acts like picking winners is a Trumpian innovation of the tax code.

  • Zeb||

    What the fuck? He's got it completely backwards. The government writing you a check is a middleman. Having the companies directly pay their employees rather than giving the money to the government first is exactly cutting out the middleman.

  • DajjaI||

    Ben Shapiro always says, "People who disagree with me, come to the front of the line."

    That's how you handle protesters. The fact is, people know intuitively that if they can't argue civilly then they have no standing and must leave or STFU.

    Similarly, I have often taken controversial positions, and I would never want the government to 'protect' me from dissenters. I'd rather they challenge me and thereby allow me to dismantle their arguments resulting in public humiliation as a lesson to others. And then once I have restored order, I can proceed to make my point.

    This new law seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

    Still Shillin' for Jill 2020 approves this message.

  • Rich||

    "Argue civilly", like this?

  • Rebel Scum||

    I remember seeing that. If I remember correctly, the two top teams at the finals did not even address the debate question at hand during the "debate". What a shitshow.

  • Finrod||

    Both should have been disqualified and laughed at.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Many of the SJW leftists are not interested in having a discussion. They threaten, disrupt, and shout down speakers. That's what this bill is intended to prevent.

    If a group wants to stand outside the speaking venue while the speaker and audience are entering and exiting, and scream till their lungs bleed about how racist and sexist and cisphilic the speaker is, fine. If they want to put up fliers all around campus to that effect, fine. But they must not be allowed to threaten and intimidate speakers and audiences, and must not be allowed to disrupt speech that an audience has gathered to hear.

  • DajjaI||

    they must not be allowed to threaten and intimidate speakers and audiences

    They aren't.

    must not be allowed to disrupt speech

    Go back to your safe space, snowflake.

  • Barbara Yarhead||

    I hope home invaders drop that same line before they strangle you.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    So, Dajjal, in your view, freedom of speech includes to right to show down, disrupt, and effectively curtail the free speech of others? If so, that is not free speech but mob rule.

    But then I suppose those offended could just engage in counter screaming and then nobody could really communicate much of anything. Did you grow up in a dysfunctional home, per chance?

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    ...shut down.

  • DajjaI||

    Free speech is worthless if Barbara Yarhead kills me. That's the part you're missing.

  • Barbara Yarhead||

    I'm not a home invader. Go cry to home invaders. Wishing you dead and killing you are two very different things. I have not threatened you at all. We are merely engaging in your definition of free speech.

    Feel free to wish the same.

  • DajjaI||

    I wish you a long life.

  • Finrod||

    Fuck off, slaver.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Founding Fathers were of the mind that freedom of speech is you shouting from your stump and someone else shouting from their stump. The government cannot interrupt that speech nor step in to protect that speech.

    The government can step in to protect the orators from assault and battery and to remove someone from private property.

    The solution is educate kids that communication is preferable to violence and hold discussions in private venues. If you must have a speech in public, bring a bullhorn and/or loudspeaker system to drown out the protesters.

  • DajjaI||

    Yep, thanks! It's clear that the purpose of this law is to stifle dissent with the accusation of 'shouting louder'. Well endless shenanigans will ensue under such laws. Also, they will end up being used against the drumpfencücken after the next election. Which will only serve to radicalize them and this will repeat the cycle. No thank you.

  • Finrod||

    Why do you hate Jews, troll?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    I thought you had reached max stupid in previous posts, but you continue to show how underestimated you have been thus far.

  • Azathoth!!||

    I'd rather they challenge me and thereby allow me to dismantle their arguments

    Wouldn't we all.

    But that's the problem. They shriek. They scream. They chant. They smash things, They throw things. They set off alarms. They burn things.

    Their sole purpose is to make sure that you're not heard at all.

    THAT is what this law is addressing.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    They do all of that and then tell the media how violent you are, how unopen to ideas you are, how violent your belief is, and how threatened and weak they felt. It's all about becoming the aggressor and convincing everyone the speaker was the aggressor, because words.

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