House OKs free speech bill

The mea­sure would ban spec­i­fied zones on pub­lic col­lege cam­puses.

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Brian Ea­son

To ex­pose more col­lege stu­dents to views with which they may dis­agree, the Colorado House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Tues­day voted to ban so-called “free speech zones” on pub­lic col­lege cam­puses that have been used to con­fine pub­lic de­mon­stra­tions to des­ig­nated ar­eas.

Sup­port­ers say Se­nate Bill 62, ap­proved unan­i­mously by the House, is es­sen­tial to mak­ing sure higher ed­u­ca­tion re­mains a mar­ket­place of ideas in which stu­dents are ex­posed to a va­ri­ety of view­points — even views that may of­fend them.

“We’ve be­come too com­fort­able these days get­ting our news from peo­ple we al­ready agree with,” said state Rep. Jeff Bridges, DGreen­wood Vil­lage, one of the bill’s three bi­par­ti­san spon­sors, at a com­mit­tee hear­ing this month. “We si­lence those we dis­agree with ei­ther by tun­ing them out or by marginal­iz­ing them.”

Cam­pus free speech zones date to at least the 1960s, when Viet­nam War and civil rights protests were preva­lent. But in re­cent years, there has been a grow­ing de­bate about free ex­pres­sion on cam­pus as more col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties adopt poli­cies that seek to in­su­late stu­dents from speech they may find of­fen­sive or threat­en­ing.

Crit­ics counter that so-called “free speech” zones ac­tu­ally sti­fle speech, by re­strict­ing it to places where few peo­ple will be ex­posed to it — and Colorado on Tues­day took a step closer to join­ing other states that have sought to roll back such re­stric­tions.

The Se­nate has al­ready passed a ver­sion of the mea­sure, and if the cham­ber agrees to the House’s changes, it would need only the gover­nor’s sig­na­ture to be­come law.

The bill would pro­hibit the cre­ation of free speech zones, along with any other pol­icy sug­gest­ing that free speech is off lim­its in cer­tain ar­eas. It would also al­low stu­dents to sue — and re­cover at­tor­neys’ fees and court costs, though not dam­ages — if they feel their rights have been vi­o­lated.

Col­leges, mean­while, could still im­pose “rea­son­able time, place and man­ner” re­stric­tions on speech — such as mak­ing sure a protest doesn’t in­ter­rupt class.

At a com­mit­tee hear­ing, stu­dents tes­ti­fied on the mer­its and prob­lems with free speech zone poli­cies, with one go­ing so far as to say the First Amend­ment was “un­der at­tack on col­lege cam­puses.”

“Col­lege cam­puses are cradling stu­dents from dif­fer­ent opin­ions that they don’t agree with and we’re re­ally not pre­par­ing stu­dents for the real world,” said Juan Caro, a Colorado State Univer­sity stu­dent and a mem­ber of the lib­er­tar­ian group Young Amer­i­cans for Lib­erty.

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