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Policymakers | Freedom of Expression

House Passes College Campus Free Speech Bill

THE NORTHSIDE SUN   |  March 19, 2020

The Mississippi House of Representatives adopted a bill today to protect the rights of college students to speak freely about the causes and issues they hold dear. The bill codifies existing federal case law for the state of Mississippi to avoid expensive litigation for public universities and colleges.

“The last place on earth we should expect to see free speech go unprotected is on a college campus,” said Jon Pritchett, President and CEO of Mississippi Center for Public Policy (MCPP). “Students and administrators need to tolerate speech with which they may disagree. And while this is not a left or right issue, it is important to thank Speaker Philip Gunn and the House for their leadership and action on this important issue.”

Eighty-three percent of Mississippi voters support legislation that “would protect speech for all college students, even if others disagree with their point of view.” This law has broad public support in every corner of the state. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans, and 80 percent of independents support the law.

HB 1200 does not protect speech that would incite violence or harassment or would objectively disrupt a campus event or activity. It only applies to the campus community and allows universities to set reasonable limits to speech and peaceful protests.

“Under House Bill 1200, schools would not be able to create specific ‘free speech zones’ and they would have to use ‘clear, published, content-and viewpoint-neutral criteria’ in restricting student speech and gatherings,” explained Dr. Jameson Taylor, Vice President for Policy with MCPP. These criteria are set forth in U.S. Supreme Court decisions like Healy v. James (1972) andTinker v. Des Moines (1969) and, more recently in the lower courts, Barnes v. Zaccari (2015) andKoala v. Khosla (2019).”

According to a recent audit by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, there is an “urgent” need to address unconstitutional restrictions on campuses like at Ole Miss. The University of Mississippi “has set out unconstitutional rules for ‘Speaker’s Corners,’ ‘Organized Student Demonstrations,’ carrying props, and use of sidewalk chalk. It has, moreover, a Bias Incident Response Team, whose stated procedures will almost inevitably trigger a legal challenge.” Likewise, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), cautions that “the picture on the ground in Mississippi is not all rosy.” FIRE is currently suing Jones County Community College for violating the free speech rights of student Mike Brown.

Almost 20 states have passed campus free speech protections, including every state in the SEC except Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina.

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