by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I watched Texas this week follow Tennessee to become the 17th state to enact campus free-speech legislation.
In fact, Texas isn’t just following Tennessee, it’s following a number of its neighbors. More states have passed campus free-speech bills in the past five months than in any other year in American history. Eight have been passed, seven enacted.
Moreover, this legislation comes at the very moment when campus speech codes are in a state of dramatic decline. In ten years, the percentage of surveyed universities with clearly unconstitutional speech codes (such institutions are “red light” in the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education parlance) has shrunk from a whopping 74.2 percent to 28.5 percent.
But while it’s encouraging to see speech codes disappear, and the litigation record of free-speech lawyers against campus censors is excellent, campus free-speech bills represent a true sledgehammer against censorship. At a stroke, they often do away with speech zones (which purport to limit free-speech activities to small sections of campus), obliterate speech codes, protect freedom of association, and mandate that students be made aware of their free-speech rights.
Overall, 16 states have dealt with speech zones. A total of 14 states have clearly and unequivocally protected the free-association rights of religious, political, and ideological groups (functionally overruling dreadful Supreme Court precedent in the process), and seven states have precisely and properly restricted anti-harassment laws and placed them within clearly constitutional limits.