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College Speech: GA Lawmakers To Limit Admin Power to Curb Student Speech


ATLANTA, GA:  With college free speech under assault nationwide, Southeastern Legal Foundation today submitted written testimony to the Georgia State Senate as it considers legislation protecting the First Amendment rights of Georgia’s college students as part of its ongoing 1A Project to protect First Amendment rights on college campuses. Senate Bill 318, called the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act, aims to put an end to speech suppression on Georgia’s public college and university campuses by eliminating so-called speech zones and safe spaces and by giving Georgia’s college students a way to defend their First Amendment rights in court.


America’s colleges were once a marketplace of ideas, but college-imposed restraints often coerce students into silence. Kimberly Hermann, SLF General Counsel, explained, “SLF is contacted by college students every week who are forced to stand in faraway speech zones to speak and have to decide between exercising their First Amendment rights or facing official discipline. Our college students should not be forced into silence.”


Laws like the FORUM Act will appropriately limit administrators’ power and allow students to discuss important issues and current events as they arise.


This is not the first time the Georgia General Assembly has faced this issue. In 2018, the Georgia General Assembly provided specific and substantive guidance directives to the Georgia Board of Regents to protect fair, free, and open access to speech on campuses across the state. Unfortunately, the law didn’t go far enough, and SLF still sees too many instances of content-based, speaker-based, and viewpoint-based discrimination.


A major issue that plagues the legal protection of college students’ First Amendment rights is standing. More often than not, if a student brings a viable claim against a university, either the school changes its policy just enough to skirt judicial review or by the time the case reaches trial, the student has graduated. In either scenario the case is dismissed and the students’ rights are never vindicated. As Cece Howard, SLF Attorney noted, “The FORUM Act holds Georgia colleges and universities accountable when they infringe on students’ First Amendment rights. The proposed law addresses this by giving students a specific claim for damages if universities violate their rights, demanding greater accountability from schools through the judiciary.” The bill was also proposed in the Georgia House of Representatives under HB 995. SLF’s written testimony can be found here.

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