On May 9, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill titled the “Campus Free Speech Protection Act.” The Tennessee Senate passed this comprehensive free speech bill unanimously, and it received overwhelming support in the Tennessee House of Representatives as well. Specifically, Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Eddie Smith led the effort to pass this legislation.

Robert Shibley, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) Executive Director, stated that this free speech bill “is the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech on college campuses that [FIRE has] seen be passed anywhere in the country.”

What does Tennessee’s Free Speech Bill Do?

Among the eight page bill’s many stipulations, the following policy points are most notable.

  • Creating free speech zones are prohibited. Section six states that “an institution shall not restrict students’ free speech only to particular areas of the campus, sometimes known as ‘free speech zones.'”
  • Schools must adopt policies that explicitly affirm free speech principles. Section six also states that “the governing body of every institution shall adopt a policy” which outwardly affirms an institution’s commitment to free speech:

    An institution shall be committed to maintaining a campus as a marketplace of ideas for all students and all faculty in which the free exchange of ideas is not to be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the institution’s community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed

  •  Schools must foster the ability to bring guest speakers on to campus regardless of their viewpoints. Section six includes several requirements which effectively handle the issues surrounding dis-invitations and crowd disruptions against guest speakers.
  • School disciplinary codes must contain definitions of student-on-student harassment that are less subjective. Section 7 instructs schools to define student-on-student harassment as “unwelcome conduct directed toward a person that is discriminatory on a basis prohibited by federal, state, or local law, and that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”

This comprehensive law provides many more free speech protections in addition to the highlights listed above. You can read the full text of the bill for further details.