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New Florida education bill turns public college campuses into free-speech zones

Hannah Lee

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Governor Rick Scott signed a bill last week that bans all designated “free-speech zones” on Florida public college campuses, instead turning the entirety of campus into a free-speech zone.  

The bill states, “A public institution of higher education may not designate any area of campus as a free-speech zone or otherwise create policies restricting expressive activities to a particular outdoor area of campus.”

This comes as a part of the The Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018. Representative Bob Rommel introduced the free-speech zone provision in the bill to stop colleges from restricting protest activity to certain areas.

The bill goes on to say, “A person who wishes to engage in an expressive activity in outdoor areas of campus may do so freely, spontaneously, and contemporaneously as long as the person’s conduct is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education or infringe upon the rights of other individuals or organizations to engage in expressive activities.”

The bill also states anyone whose rights are being violated may bring action against the university through the court.

Gov. Scott officially approved the bill on March 11. Florida joined Virginia, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky in banning free-speech zones.

Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that bans “free-speech zones” on Florida public college campuses. Photo by Camille Shaw

At UNF, there are no designated zones for free speech. According to their Policies and Regulations, demonstrations may be held anywhere on campus as long as they do not disrupt the normal operations of the University. However, no demonstrations are permitted inside university buildings.

“Outdoor areas on the campus which are not committed to a specific use or assigned to a specific University entity, such as the area located adjacent to the Arena and the Wellness Center, are free to be used for informal, unscheduled, and unamplified expressions of opinion or musical events by persons participating as individuals without registration or approval,” stated the policies. “These impromptu speakers or performers will be held responsible for orderly behavior and for no disruption of academic activities, scheduled public functions, or pedestrian or other traffic, and they must follow University rules governing those areas.”

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New Florida education bill turns public college campuses into free-speech zones