By: Savannah Maddox, Kentucky State Representative
Freedom of speech is the bedrock of individual liberty, and one of the most fundamental protections afforded within the Constitution.
In an effort to ensure that this protection is preserved and promoted at Kentucky’s public universities, I filed House Bill 254, the “Campus Free Speech Act,” in order to address some of the issues and concerns that have arisen among students here in the Commonwealth.
Thankfully, the Campus Free Speech Act passed the Kentucky House and Senate and has now been signed into law by the governor. I consider this a monumental victory for free speech – and I am grateful for the outpouring of support from allied organizations, and the hard work of grassroots activists and student groups who helped to make this legislation a reality.
This legislation is a positive development. Kentucky has a long history of students being prohibited from exercising their First Amendment rights on campus because they were not standing in their school’s Orwellian “free speech zones.” These inherently oppressive policies – which have been employed to prohibit demonstrations and free expression – unreasonably limit student speech to tiny zones that often make up less than 1 percent of the campus.
Unfortunately, this is not atypical.
Many universities across the country have these policies and apply them broadly, suppressing the speech of students from all walks of life and political viewpoints.
Universities are meant to be a place of discussion, intellectual inquiry, and great debate within our society. The goal of the university itself should be to act as a marketplace of ideas in which members of our society can discuss ideas freely without fear of punishment.
Unfortunately, there are currently many university policies that discourage the marketplace of ideas, including some that fail to protect the First Amendment rights of their students.
What is the effect of these policies here in Kentucky?
- These policies prohibit Baptist student ministries from giving free hugs on “Free Hug Day” because they are two feet outside a “free speech zone.”
- They prevent pro-life student groups from using crosses to represent children who have been aborted and then turn around and silence the pro-abortion counter-protests.
- They force individuals to go to extraordinary efforts just pass out copies of the Bible to those interested in receiving it.
These are just a few examples of the everyday expressive activities that were stopped in Kentucky because they were outside a “free speech zone.”
These stories should be disturbing to every American because each one was caused by a government policy that violated the First Amendment rights of tens of thousands of students at publicly funded post-secondary institutions.
College students should be confident that their schools will respect their freedom to speak, debate, and associate with like-minded classmates – not be given the immense burden to fight a university for constitutional rights they already possess.
That’s why we need to stand up for them.
When we quarantine any person to a “free speech zone,” we limit our own activism – including our own ability to speak out against viewpoints we disagree with. As a state legislator, I could not remain silent on this issue – none of us should.
After all, any complacency regarding free speech could eventually be used to silence me or you in the future. And that should concern us all.