HB 54: Protecting Free Speech on Publicly Funded Universities

This Bill passed the House 71-0 and the Senate 28-1.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

“Free speech zones” on college campuses have restricted the free speech rights of students and other peaceful protesters whose ability to speak out to an assembled audience is arbitrarily restricted. Despite recognition from the Supreme Court that a government entity may only establish “reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions” on the right of protest, some schools encumber this right with unreasonable requirements.

House Bill 54, sponsored by Representative Kim Coleman, statutorily requires public universities to follow this guideline, further specifying that such restrictions on expressive activities in outdoor areas of campus may only be allowed if they “are narrowly tailored to serve a significant institutional interest,” “are based on published, content-neutral, and viewpoint-neutral criteria,” and “leave open ample alternative channels for communication.”

Universities in violation of this law would be subject to litigation, as HB365 establishes a private cause of action, allowing a person whose free speech rights were violated to sue the school, and if victorious, receive a monetary award along with compensatory damages, court costs, and attorney fees.

While private universities have the right to impose limits on the free association rights of its students, government-funded universities must allow protest and spontaneous demonstrations without any intervention, unless public safety legitimately warrants it. This bill puts universities throughout Utah on notice that the free speech rights of its students must be strongly protected.

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