Declares outdoor areas public forums, punishes students who interfere with others’ speech
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday signed a sweeping new law that aims to protect free speech on college campuses across the Lone Star state.
“Some colleges are banning free speech on college campuses,” the governor said in a video released on Twitter on Sunday as he signed the bill. “Well, no more. Because I am about to sign a law that protects free speech on college campuses in Texas.”
“Shouldn’t have to do it. First Amendment guarantees it,” he added. “Now, it’s law in Texas.”
As The College Fix reported in April, the legislation, SB18, ensures that “the common outdoor areas of the institution’s campus are deemed traditional public forums” and allows universities to impose time/place/manner restrictions as long as those restrictions follow published and viewpoint-neutral criteria and allow for “ample” alternative expression.
It also allows members of a university community “to assemble or distribute written material without a permit or other permission” from campus leaders. What’s more, it establishes “disciplinary sanctions for students, student organizations, or faculty who unduly interfere with the expressive activities of others on campus.”
Finally, it protects student organizations from denial of general university services based on the organization’s viewpoint. It also prevents universities from charging more in security fees from student organizations due to potentially controversial speakers.
As part of an effort to hold campuses accountable, Texas universities must file a report in 2020 on how they are implementing the law’s requirements.
The Texas legislation is similar to recent free speech bills passed since 2017 in Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota, Tennessee, Colorado, Iowa and Arkansas. The states passing the laws are mostly Republican-dominant states.