Colorado Free Speech Bill

On April 4, Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an extremely important bill into law. Senate Bill 17-062, also known as An Act Concerning The Right To Free Speech On Campuses of Public Institutions of Higher Education, goes a long way towards restoring students’ free speech rights in Colorado’s public colleges. The bill explicitly protects students from viewpoint-discrimination and disallows the creation of free speech zones on public campuses.

(3)(a)N INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION SHALL NOT LIMIT OR RESTRICT A STUDENT’S EXPRESSION IN A STUDENT FORUM, INCLUDING SUBJECTING A STUDENT TO DISCIPLINARY ACTION RESULTING FROM HIS OR HER EXPRESSION, BECAUSE OF THE CONTENT OR VIEWPOINT OF THE EXPRESSION OR BECAUSE OF THE REACTION OR OPPOSITION BY LISTENERS OR OBSERVERS TO SUCH EXPRESSION. 

(4) AN INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION SHALL NOT DESIGNATE ANY AREA ON CAMPUS AS A FREE SPEECH ZONE OR OTHERWISE CREATE POLICIES IMPLYING THAT ITS STUDENTS’ EXPRESSIVE ACTIVITIES ARE RESTRICTED TO PARTICULAR AREAS OF CAMPUS

This short bill takes a strong stand against censorship, and it emphatically states the importance of “promoting the free and unfettered exchange of ideas” on Colorado’s public college campuses. To make matters even better, these actions were hardly controversial, as the “bill passed with wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the Legislature this year.”

 

Colorado Speech Codes

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education points out, Colorado’s colleges were desperately in need of this bill: “of the nine public Colorado colleges and universities that FIRE includes in its Spotlight on Speech Codes report, five have policies that impermissibly restrict students’ right to protest and demonstrate.” For example, Colorado State University – Pueblo had a highly ambiguous policy requiring applications to be filed for on-campus demonstrations.  Additionally, the University of Colorado at Boulder maintained policies that sought to restrict “offensive” speech and the contacting of peers online “repeatedly with the intent to annoy or bother” them.

In the end, the bill’s author sought to put an end to these very policies: “I introduced this bill because the rights of students to express themselves on campus were being restricted by policies that unacceptably required students to get permission before publicly assembling or distributing literature and by policies that quarantined students so they could only exercise their rights on some parts of their campuses … Now that the Governor has signed this legislation into law, free expression on campus can thrive.”