Recently, college campuses across the country have been struggling with a specific issue: The protection of free speech. Many colleges are trying to establish "safe spaces" for minorities and create trigger warnings for academic content, which has resulted in certain speakers, like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, being banned from speaking at college campuses because of their conservative point of view. Tennessee has witnessed this problem on their state campuses, and local leaders recently enacted legislation to protect free speech.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, which is a comprehensive law that provides strong protections for student discourse on college campuses. The state declared that all post-secondary institutions "are not immune from the sweep of the First Amendment which ... guarantees freedom of speech and expression." The new law will prohibit viewpoint discrimination, and will bar student organizations from rescinding invitations to speakers.
In addition to this, the law will also require all policies to be consistent with the University of Chicago's Free Speech Policy statement, and will ban all "safe spaces" on campus. In effect, Tennessee's new free speech codes will protect all faculty from being punished for lectures in the classroom. Unless an individual's speech involves threats or future harm, they will not be punished on college campuses.
Robert Shibley, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has stated that the new law is the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech in the country:
"It is gratifying to see the Tennessee legislature take decisive action to protect the expressive rights of students and faculty, especially in light of the number of restrictive speech codes across the country and the recent controversies over speech on campus."
The bill passed with overwhelming support from the Tennessee House of Representatives by a vote of 85-7, and a 30-0 vote in the Senate. The new law has completely redefined student harassment on college campuses across the state. It will be interesting to witness whether this new law receives any criticism from student groups at the University of Tennessee, or spreads to other states.
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