South Dakota Bill Would Require Public Universities to Uphold Free Speech

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A new bill introduced in the South Dakota House of Representatives would force public universities to uphold the First Amendment.

The bill, which was introduced by State Representative Michael Clark, would prohibit “free speech zones” on public university campuses and force administrators to uphold First Amendment rights for students.

“This bill protects free speech on college campuses, it removes the idea of the free speech zones and informs staff and teachers and the students of their right and responsibilities regarding free speech,” Clark said. Clark is one of several South Dakota state representatives who is sponsoring the bill.

The bill explicitly states that public universities are to allow students and organizations the right to use “any outdoor area” of campus. Any restrictions placed upon the usage of the space would have to be “viewpoint-neutral.”

Any outdoor area of a campus of a public institution of higher education in this state is a public forum. A public institution of higher education may maintain and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions narrowly tailored in service of a significant institutional interest only if those restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any restriction shall allow for members of the campus community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble and distribute literature. Nothing in this section limits the right of student expression elsewhere on campus.

University of South Dakota professor William Richardson will testify before the South Dakota House of Representatives in favor of its passage. “I think we have all been observers to what’s been going on in a number of college campuses in the past year and half with speakers being disinvited, being shouted down, even violence greeting them,” Richardson said in a comment. “Obviously, in the Midwest, that is not a problem, but the problems of the coast eventually come to the Midwest.”

According to a report from The College Fix, Clark is confident that the bill will pass. “This year, I honestly believe that it’s going to pass. It’s got wide support in the house and the senate. The governor’s office hasn’t said one way or the other, but I can’t imagine the governor’s office being against free speech,” Clark said.

 

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