Bipartisan Tennessee lawmakers passed a free speech law Tuesday that protects students’ First Amendment rights on college campuses.
GOP Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Campus Free Speech Protection Act after the state’s House of Representatives passed it in a 85-7 vote and the Senate unanimously approved it, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reported Wednesday.
The law will ban the establishment of “free speech zones,” used by administrators to confine controversial speech to specific areas on campus.
It will also force colleges to treat student-on-student harassment in accordance with the United States Supreme Court ruling on Davis vs. Monroe County Board of Education, which defined harassment as conduct “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”
Universities will also no longer be able to retract invitations to speakers or make it harder for student organizations to express their viewpoints by imposing speaking fees.
Six out of the seven Tennessee universities cataloged by FIRE have either yellow-light or red-light free speech ratings, meaning those schools operate with policies that either moderately or severely impair the free speech rights of their students. While one of the schools catalogued, University of Tennessee – Knoxville, has a green-light rating.
“[The law] is the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech on college campuses that we’ve seen be passed anywhere in the country,” Robert Shibley, executive director for FIRE, said in a statement. “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.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Haslam and Tennessee’s two red-light universities for comment. A representative for Middle State Tennessee University said that while it already strongly guards students’ right to free speech, it will be revising its policy to comply with the law. Tennessee State University, the other red-light school, did not respond to a request for comment.
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