Two Florida state senators have introduced a bill that, if passed, would outlaw universities in the state that receive federal funding from setting up “free speech zones.”
Florida State Senators Dennis Baxley and Bob Rommel have introduced a piece of legislation that aims to make it illegal for federally-funding institutions in Florida to maintain “free speech zones,” which are designated campus areas where students are permitted to exercise their First Amendment rights.
In recent years, in an attempt to combat politically incorrect speech and an increasingly tense political climate, public universities have told students that they are only allowed to exercise their First Amendment rights in designated areas of campus.
The new Florida bill would not only ban this practice, but would also impose a fine of $100,000 on student protesters who materially disrupt political events on campuses.
“Too many administrators and too many students today seem to have the same view towards speech that the Soviet Union had towards dissenters from their communist ideology — any speech that differs from whatever the prevailing orthodoxy and politically correct ideology is on campus must be banned,” Hans Von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation said in a statement. “They have no appreciation for the rights protected under the First Amendment.”
“Now we’re cordoning people off into little squares, into free speech zones,” Senator Baxley argued. “It is a growing concern that we’re dissolving into a very narrow view of the world that has to be politically correct to a certain standard, and if you have anything to say that’s not in that little square, then the new tactic is not to debate you, but to silence you.”
“Restricting such speech to only a limited space is the very antithesis of what universities are supposed to do. It is a betrayal of their fundamental purpose,” Baxley added. “Kids today grow up in K-12 schools and then colleges with severe, restrictive speech codes in place. They are being taught that it is wrong to express any views that may be controversial or don’t agree with the majority.”
In December, students at Arkansas State University filed a suit claiming that their school’s “free speech zone” policy was unconstitutional.
In November, a court ordered a Fresno State Professor to pay a $17,000 fine after he was caught on video erasing political chalk writings off of the sidewalks at the public university. He accused the students responsible for the chalk writings of violating a “free speech zone policy” that hadn’t been in effect at the university since 2015. As a part of his punishment, Thatcher was ordered to attend First Amendment training.