On July 14, 2015, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 93 into law, including the Campus Free Expression Act (CAFE Act) which prohibits public colleges and universities from restricting student speech to “free speech zones.”
The CAFE Act received overwhelmingly bipartisan support in the Missouri Senate, passing with a 34-0 vote in May, and was officially signed into law by Governor Nixon yesterday. Missouri is the second state to ban free speech zones, following Virginia’s lead, which banned the restrictive zones at all public colleges in April 2014.
Living in the United States, many assume that free speech is applicable and allowed to be practiced anywhere within the country, however, that sadly is not the case. Free speech is especially important and should be promoted at institutions for higher learning. These colleges and universities should be a safe haven for unfettered intellectual exploration, so limiting speech on campus undermines that traditional purpose.
Free speech zones are areas determined by the school’s administration and are used to restrict the ability for students to exercise their right of freedom of expression on campus. Not only are free speech zones common on college campuses nationwide, but they are typically restricted to tiny, out of the way, and low traffic areas. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) determined that one in six public colleges in the United States use free speech zones, an extremely alarming statistic that makes you question whether these college administrations value or even attempt to uphold the Constitution.
These prevalent free speech zones have proved extremely problematic when YAL chapters across the nation want to participate in activism. When YAL members at the University of Iowa wanted to participate in Incarceration Nation to advocate for criminal justice reform, they were heckled by campus police, who eventually confiscated their table for advocating ‘outside of the free speech zone.’
Stories like that of the University of Iowa’s YAL chapter are not uncommon, and speak to the reality of limited speech on campus, so it is inspiring to see legitimate legislation implemented to protect student’s First Amendment rights. One can hope that other states will begin to follow in pursuit so that YAL chapters and other students across the nation will be able to safely speak out on the issues that matter to them the most. Until the banning of all free speech zones across the country becomes a reality, you can expect to see YAL chapters continuing to participate in activism to combat these restrictive policies.Published in