Despite concerns raised by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Arizona’s legislature passed a law aimed at protecting Free Speech on college campuses. Meanwhile, the president of Arizona’s largest public university claims that the state’s lawmakers themselves constitute the greatest threat to Free Speech.
Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed HB 2563 into law on April 26, 2018. In his signing letter, Ducey acknowledged a lack of Free Speech controversies at Arizona’s public colleges and universities. “On our state’s… campuses, free speech is protected and diversity of thought is valued,” he wrote. However, Ducey’s letter called attention to Free Speech incidents “across the country, from Berkeley to Harvard, from Missouri to Middlebury [where] protests and violence have attempted to silence speech that some people just don’t want to hear.”
State Representative Paul Boyer, a Republican who represents northern Phoenix, sponsored the law. According to AZ Central, Boyer expressed concern about the University of Arizona’s attempt to hire social justice advocates in 2017. These employees would report incidents of bias, a responsibility that some conservative legislators denounced as “speech police.” Boyer told AZ Central that the mission of his bill was to ensure that any restriction on speech is content-neutral. “If you’re a Bernie bro or a fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, you have a right to have your speech protected,” he said.
The new law requires public colleges and universities to establish 15-member committees to monitor and report infringements on Free Speech, according to AZ Central. The law also allows individuals to sue colleges and universities in the event that their Free Speech rights are violated. In an effort to fight against the “heckler’s veto,” a phenomenon in which protesting students sometimes shut down speakers they object to, the law imposes minimum damages of $1,000 for such incidents. Finally, the law notes that “if a student has repeatedly been determined to have materially and substantially infringed on the expressive rights of another person, a punishment of suspension or expulsion from the university or community college may be appropriate.”
FIRE strongly opposed the law, writing in a blog post that it would “have a profound impact on student expression on campuses across Arizona,” and that the legislative “language would allow student speech rights to be routinely violated.” Specifically, FIRE objected to a provision that permits universities and colleges to “restrict a student’s right to speak, including verbal speech, holding a sign or distributing fliers or other materials, in a public forum.”
HB 2563 was authored by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank located in Phoenix. Additionally, two conservative Christian organizations, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Center for Arizona Policy, participted in drafting the law.
In April 2018, Eileen Klein, then-president of the Arizona Board of Regents, warned that legislation aimed at protecting Free Speech on campus often curtails it instead. She noted that university officials helped get the bill in “as good of shape as possible,” reported AZ Central.
Despite the intention of legislators to protect First Amendment freedoms, the head of the state’s largest university claims that lawmakers themselves constitute the biggest threat to Free Speech on Arizona campuses. Arizona State University (ASU) President Michael Crow told AZ Central that he plans to comply with the new law by reporting any attempts of lawmakers to interfere with Free Speech. “The most troublesome area is the interference of the Legislature in who might speak on campus,” he said. Lawmakers reportedly complained about a course called “The Problem of Whiteness,” according to ASU officials. Last year, a Republican legislator sponsored a bill that would prohibit events, activities, or courses that promoted either the overthrow of the government or division among races. Boyer did not support this legislation.
Governor Signs Bill
On April 26, 2018, Governor Ducey signed HB 2563 into law.
Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18
Uploaded May 7, 2018