Alabama campus free speech bill signed into law
Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday signed into law State Rep. Matt Fridy’s (R-Montevallo) HB 498, a bill intended to safeguard freedom of speech on public college campuses in Alabama.
This came after the legislation received final passage last week. The new law takes effect July 1, 2020.
In statements on Thursday, Fridy and Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) applauded the governor for signing the bill into law.
“I commend Governor Ivey for signing this important bill into law,” Fridy said. “Alabama’s university campuses should be places where ideas are freely debated and students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints.”
“Unfortunately, across the nation—occasionally even here in Alabama—college administrators have used unfair, arbitrary speech codes to silence speech that is deemed ‘offensive.’ Oftentimes, politically and religiously conservative groups are targeted. This law will protect all speech, wherever it may fall on the political spectrum,” he continued.
HB 498 requires taxpayer-funded, public colleges and universities in the Yellowhammer State to adopt speech policies for their campuses that will protect the free and open exchange of ideas.
In particular, the speech policies must make clear that the outdoor areas of a public higher education institution’s campus shall be deemed a public forum for members of the campus community.
“Free speech is the cornerstone of our rights as Americans,” Fridy advised. “This law protects free speech at our colleges and universities, prohibits shout-downs and other behavior that inhibits the free exchange of ideas, and prohibits discrimination against student groups and invited speakers because of their beliefs — all the while still allowing schools to implement viewpoint-neutral regulations that protect the safety and welfare of students.”
Waggoner said explicit protections for free expression on Alabama’s college campuses were long overdue.
“I am glad to see that Governor Ivey has signed HB 498 into law. We are committed to ensuring that freedom of speech is not just a slogan, but a reality that will be equally and fairly applied to all students on Alabama’s public college campuses,” Waggoner commented. “Allowing our students to listen to a variety of viewpoints, and without bureaucratic harassment, is long overdue.”
The new law stipulates that public colleges and universities may not establish so-called “free speech zones,” which are small areas on college quads to which students are confined if engaging in speech activity that administrators deem to be controversial.
HB 498 will also ensure that if hecklers choose to protest and intimidate invited guest speakers on campuses, the institutions cannot capitulate to the hecklers by forcing the speaker to pay for security costs that have arisen from the protest.
In a separate release, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Kellie Fiedorek praised Alabama’s new law.
“Public colleges and universities are meant to be free and open to the exchange of ideas—a place where our future teachers, lawyers, doctors, judges, community leaders, and voters can exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of speech,” she outlined. “This new law ensures that public universities remain places where intellectual diversity flourishes and all students are able to engage in the exchange of ideas rather than being censored on campus or banished to tiny so-called ‘free speech zones.’ We commend Gov. Ivey and the Alabama Legislature for protecting students’ First Amendment freedoms.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn