Georgia Ends Campus ‘Free Speech Zone’ Restrictions

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the state’s Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act into law last week, eliminating “free speech zones” at colleges and universities in the Peach State.

“Free speech zones” on campuses have been described as being designed to “physically contain” controversial speech to restricted areas determined by administrators. The Georgia Libertarian Party reported that before the FORUM Act, students in the state were typically allowed less than one percent of campus space to engage in so-called “free” speech.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Zack Pruitt told reporters that restricting freedom of speech to small and isolated areas places improper limits on the rights of students and their organizations to express their messages to the college community. He referenced a case that had been filed against Georgia Gwinnett College because it had designated two tiny zones comprising only 0.0015 percent of its campus.

The new FORUM Act specifically prohibits learning institutions from creating designated “free speech zones” or disrupting any “substantial disruption” of protected speech. It also requires schools to provide public notice of rules and expectations regarding “expressive activity” and to develop programs and procedures related to free speech on campus.

The law essentially designates all unrestricted outdoor campus spaces as public forums where all forms of legal speech are presumed to be allowed.

The FORUM Act enjoyed broad support, although one group of legislators called it one of a group of “ugly” bills enacted in this year’s legislative session. They claim that it will “enable extremists” to speak freely on campus. State Rep. David Dreyer (D) said that the motive for the bill was a “myth” that conservatives are discriminated against on campuses.

The bill was based on model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit conservative organization. The ALEC regularly provides conservative state and local lawmakers around the nation with technical assistance and consulting regarding freedom-based initiatives.

Kemp said upon signing the bill into law that “freedom of expression is one of this great nation’s fundamental liberties.” He added that Georgia is moving to protect those rights and to ensure that the “ability to learn of different ideas” is enshrined at the state’s places of higher learning.