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Pro bono legal initiative begins with letter to Colorado schools

DENVER – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys announced that they will offer no-fee legal assistance to Colorado’s public colleges and universities to help ensure that campus policies protect students in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and a new state law that protects students’ free speech.

On April 4, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a bill that specifically guarantees the freedom of students to engage in all forms of speech activities: speaking, distributing written material, peaceful assembly, voter registration, and circulating petitions—among others. The ADF letter to Colorado colleges and universities offers to advise them on complying with the new statute.

“Of all places in America, public colleges and universities should be laboratories for democracy and the free expression of ideas for all speakers, not just those favored by school officials,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer. “The objective of this effort is to ensure that university and college officials are informed of their obligations to uphold free speech on campus and to assist administrators in reviewing their policies for compliance with both the Constitution and this new law.”

As the ADF letter to the schools notes, one of the protections that Senate Bill 62 offers is the abolishment of restrictive and unconstitutional so-called “speech zones” that schools have used to limit students’ ability to speak publicly on campus. The law also mirrors constitutional protections by prohibiting school officials from discriminating against campus speakers on the basis of their viewpoints. Importantly, it also ensures student speech cannot be restricted because some listeners express opposition to, or react negatively to, their expression. Such action is known as a “heckler’s veto” because it unconstitutionally allows those who oppose certain speech to censor that communication which they oppose.

“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners, and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone when many colleges fail to defend these constitutional values. We commend Colorado for taking these rights seriously and will be pleased to assist the state’s colleges and universities in revising any policies necessary to comply with this law.”

SB 62 passed the Colorado House of Representatives and Senate with very strong bipartisan support. Earlier this year, Langhofer testified before both chambers in support of the bill. Colorado joins ArizonaKentuckyMissouriUtah, and Virginia among states that have recently enacted legislation to abolish restrictive “speech zones” on college campuses. Since many college and university administrators either ignore or misunderstand principles of free speech on campuses across the country, states have stepped up to the plate with legislation to remind their school administrators of the core constitutional protections of the First Amendment.
Barry Arrington, one of nearly 3,200 attorneys allied with ADF, is serving as local counsel for the effort.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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