Amid long-running debate in Iowa about the Constitutionality of “free speech zones” on college campuses, the governor of Arizona recently signed new bills that will effectively turn campuses, themselves, into zones of free speech in that state.
Both Arizona bills were signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey on May 16. House Bill 2548 targets free speech infringement in public squares. HB 2615 eliminates free speech zones altogether — and orders those areas to be converted into memorials or monuments.
In a statement, Ducey wrote:
Part of the university experience is to be able to express diverse views, openly, without fear of retribution or intimidation — and to be exposed to other views and perspectives, even if they aren’t politically correct or popular.
The notion of designating areas where students can politically protest has long been sharply criticized as antithetical to the First Amendment.
As recently as March of this year, Dr. Charles Kesler — prominent conservative professor and senior fellow at the Claremont Institute — stated in an interview that students today are looking “for the college to protect them from argumentation, from offense — easily taken.”
From his interview with The Daily Signal:
The mantra of student protestors these days is ‘I’m offended.’ And ‘I’m offended’ is very different from saying ‘I disagree.’ When you say to someone ‘I disagree with you’ you invite a conversation … ‘I’m offended’ means stop talking.
In recent years, opponents to free speech zones are finding more and more reasons to celebrate.
A little over a year later, in July of 2015, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed the Campus Free Expression Act — which “designates the outdoor areas of campuses of public institutions of higher education to be traditional public forums” — making Missouri the second state to adopt such a measure.
Now, with the news out of Arizona, three states have chosen to eliminate free speech zones from college campuses.
On the other side of the spectrum, what’s been happening in Iowa is a good example of how complicated the issue can become.
As early as 2009, professors in the Hawkeye State had expressed concern over the impairment of free speech on campuses. In the wake of Iowa State announcing that special zones would be established for political protest, the Iowa State Daily put questions to professors at neighboring University of Iowa.
One associate professor of journalism, Stephen Berry, said that, as a journalist, he would “adamantly oppose any limitations on free speech except speech that would cause imminent danger to life or property or violate the Constitutionally protected rights of others.”
Addressing free speech zones, specifically, he added that he would “also be concerned about any restriction on where protesters are allowed to make their voices heard.”
The issue didn’t go away, and by 2015, the Iowa State student government was being asked to vote forward a bill that would create an additional free speech zone — a bill the students voted down in the name of free speech.
The seemingly conflicting nature of the student government’s actions led to headlines like“Iowa State student leaders vote against free speech, claim they ‘advocate’ free speech.”
Last month — while Arizona was giving free speech zones the boot — Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register wrote an editorial outlining the frustration felt by many at a practice that seems so fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment.
There may be no greater paradox than the concept of ‘free-speech zones’ on college campuses. Not because college students aren’t sophisticated enough to deal responsibly with their freedom of speech, but because campuses are by definition free-speech zones. Carving out special areas to exercise that right doesn’t just undermine the premise; it goes against the purpose of a higher education.
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