American universities have long been bastions of leftist thought, and in recent years that has included safe spaces, trigger warnings, and protests – often violent – to shut down opposing viewpoints. North Carolina recently joined a small group of states with legislation dedicated to defending the First Amendment freedom of expression on college campuses. Both state congressional bodies passed HB 527 with veto-proof majorities. Though the Democrat governor, Roy Cooper, refused to sign the bill, it became law anyway on June 30. The bill is titled “An Act to Restore and Preserve Free Speech on the Campuses of the Constituent Institutions of the University of North Carolina,” and that’s exactly what the new law does.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE),“roughly 1 in 10 colleges maintain problematic policies that restrict expression to certain areas on campus.” These areas – often called “free speech zones” and located in out of the way spots – started popping up around the time of the Vietnam War. Students who wish to express views contrary to the accepted opinion of the institution are given the privilege of using these so-called free speech zones. These practices don’t honor the First Amendment and are often struck down when challenged in court, but by then the damage is often already done.
HB 527 effectively turns entire universities into giant free-speech zones – as they were always meant to be. Like the Goldwater Institute’s Model that inspired it, HB 572 “affirms a commitment to free speech on public college campuses, prohibits universities from disinviting speakers, and creates a system of sanctions for those who interfere with the free speech rights of others.” “Because of this legislation, North Carolina’s college students – no matter their viewpoint – can be confident that their right to free expression will be respected, as long as they respect the ability of others to speak freely as well,” said Jim Manley.
The law forbids university staff members from directly interfering with students’ freedom of expression, allowing students to express themselves and pass out materials. It also stops the administration from disinviting any speaker asked to come by any student, group, or faculty member. Additionally, the law requires the University of North Carolina Board of Regents to issue a yearly report to the public on the handling of free-speech issues and mandates that they take no actions that require students to express the official viewpoints of the university – banning mandatory orientations on microaggressions and violence and the like. Instead, freshmen will attend a mandatory orientation on the law and their own First Amendment rights.
The bill didn’t make it through state legislature unfettered, though. The original language contained a “cause of action” provision that allowed anyone whose rights were violated under the new law to seek reasonable court costs and attorney fees. There was also a requirement that colleges suspend any student who substantially (booing and disagreeing don’t count) infringes on another’s rights after the second offense. This measure was weakened considerably, and the university must now codify its own set of disciplinary actions. Still, this law represents a new era for students – one in which they will learn the course material and their rights rather than simply being told what to think.