On Tuesday, Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO) officially signed into law a bill prohibiting public universities from restricting student expression to designated “free speech zones” on campus.
Under Senate Bill 62, Colorado universities are no longer able to sanction or restrict certain types of speech on campus, and students now have the option to sue their school if they feel their First Amendment rights have been infringed upon. Such lawsuits would allow students to recover their attorney’s fees and related litigation costs, but does not allow them to obtain monetary damages for such violations.
Additionally, the bill states that “it does not grant other members of the college or university community the right to disrupt previously scheduled or reserved activities in a portion or section of the student forum at that scheduled time.” This is essential to ensuring free speech of diverse viewpoints, even if students disagree with the speaker. Conservative commentators such as Ben Shapiro or Ann Coulter are routinely harassed, shouted at, or even threatened with physical violence for simply trying to give a speech on a college campus.
Marcus Fotenos, President of External Affairs for the University of Colorado Boulder Student Government, was instrumental in Senate Bill 62’s success. After working to pass a similar bill to protect free speech at CU-Boulder, Fotenos began recruiting other students to work with legislators to design a state law that would protect free speech at all public universities in Colorado.
“This bill will hold Colorado institutions of higher education accountable and ensure that students’ First Amendment rights are not confined to a specific location,” said Fotenos, in an interview with Campus Reform.
Colorado has now joined Virginia, Missouri, and Arizona in passing statewide laws prohibiting the practice of confining certain types of speech to “free speech zones” on public college and university campuses. The Texas House of Representatives is also considering a similar bill that would allow students to sue universities who violate students’ right to free speech.