Florida State Representative Bob Rommel introduced a new campus bill to protect free speech. In doing so, it will also dearly cost those who wish to censor that speech.
According to the new bill, there will be hefty fines for any person who violates free speech, and anyone who is violated may seek damages in court of “$500 plus $50 a day for continuing violations, up to $100,000.”
In the wake of a Richard Spencer fiasco at the University of Florida, along with many other instances nationwide, many legislators are concerned about the increasing number of attacks on campus free speech, especially those with campuses in their districts.
The bill, which Rommel maintains was not prompted by the appearance of Spencer at the University of Florida in October, would have punished the school if they initially attempted to block his appearance.
Rommel has said the focus of the bill is to protect student speech from university administrators who fail to protect free speech on campus. Violent student protesters can already be dealt with by rules against disruption of campus activities.
The “Free Speech Zones” bill reads, “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 area of campus.”
The bill continues, “Students, faculty or staff of a public institution of higher education may not materially disrupt previously scheduled or reserved activities on campus occurring at the same time.”
It also states that a person wanting to express an idea “may do so freely, spontaneously and contemporaneously as long as the person’s conduct is lawful” and doesn’t disrupt normal university activities.
As long as the speech does not violate the First Amendment’s bounds, it may be done so freely, while also “spontaneously and contemporaneously.” The legislation implies that demonstrations, picketing, speeches, the distribution of literature or discussion of controversial political positions may take place anywhere on campus as long as it’s not disrupting the middle of class.
The Campus Free Expression Act has not been assigned to a committee as of yet, but Rommel signals that there is party support for the legislation and that a Senate companion bill is in the works.
“To me, it’s just shocking that in the United States of America, we actually need a bill to protect freedom of speech,” Rommel added.