House Committee Passes Campus Free Speech Bill

On Wednesday, HB2548 passed by a unanimous vote of the Arizona House Education Committee. The bill protects free speech by determining outdoor areas of universities and community colleges to be traditional public forums.

The bill also establishes requirements for traditional public forums and prescribes penalties for violations.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer testified before the committee.

HB2548, would ensure that Arizona public college and university students can file suit to make sure that their right to speak freely on campus, as protected under a 2011 state law, is actually enforced.

That law, the University Students’ Religious Liberty Act, ensured that public colleges and universities must prove that any restriction on student speech in the open, outdoor areas of campus or other facilities made available for student speech actually furthers a legitimate government interest that is higher than a student’s constitutionally protected freedom of speech. The law also says that the school must use the least restrictive means to accomplish that interest if it has one. But the law did not allow a private party to sue to have the law enforced. HB 2548 rectifies that by adding what is called a “private cause-of-action” clause to the law.

“Arizona students should have the ability to make sure that government officials are not inappropriately censoring their speech on campus in violation of state law,” said Langhofer in a statement released before the hearing. “Closing this loophole allows students to go to court, when necessary, so that government officials can’t get away with ignoring the law.”

An example is the ADF case Mirelez v. Dale, which was filed in federal court but could have been resolved under state law if the University Students’ Religious Liberty Act had a private cause of action. That case involves a student who is challenging a restrictive speech zone at Paradise Valley Community College.

“HB 2548 strengthens Arizona law by enabling students and the attorney general to hold public colleges and universities accountable if they enact bad policies that restrict student speech,” Langhofer said.