Colorado on Tuesday came a step closer to joining other states that have sought to roll back “free speech zone” restrictions.
Supporters say that Senate Bill 62, approved unanimously by the House, is essential to making sure higher education remains a marketplace of ideas in which students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints — even if those views may offend them.
“We’ve become too comfortable these days getting our news from people we already agree with,” said state Rep. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, one of the bill’s three bipartisan sponsors, at a committee hearing earlier this month. “We silence those we disagree with either by tuning them out or by marginalizing them.”
Campus free speech zones date to at least the 1960s, when Vietnam War and civil rights protests were prevalent. But in recent years, there has been a growing debate about free expression on campus as more colleges and universities adopt policies that seek to insulate students from speech they may find offensive or threatening.
Critics counter that so-called “free speech” zones actually stifle speech, by restricting it to places where few people will be exposed to it — and Colorado on Tuesday took a step closer to joining other states that have sought to roll back such restrictions.
The Senate has already passed a version of the measure, and if the chamber agrees to the House’s changes, it would need only the governor’s signature to become law.
The bill would prohibit the creation of free speech zones, along with any other policy suggesting that free speech is off limits in certain parts of campus. It would also allow students to sue — and recover attorneys’ fees and court costs, though not damages — if they feel their rights have been violated.
Colleges, meanwhile, would still be allowed to impose “reasonable time, place and manner” restrictions on speech — such as making sure a protest doesn’t interrupt class.
At a committee hearing earlier this month, students testified at length on the merits and problems with free speech zone policies, with one going so far as to say the First Amendment was “under attack on college campuses.”