Senate Bill 339 is on Governor Nathan Deal’s desk after receiving approval from the Georgia General Assembly. The new bill would make college policies less restrictive for groups and speakers to obtain permits to the university free speech zones.
The issue came into the spotlight when Christian organization Ratio Christi sued Kennesaw State University in February 2018, alleging unconstitutional restrictions on speech and post displays. The club claimed that, after calling their pro-life posts “controversial,” the university placed moved the displays to a smaller, less visible location.
Last summer, protests held by students at the University of Berkeley drove conservative commentator Ann Coulter to cancel her scheduled event.
The new bill aims to prevent all kinds of free speech shielding on Georgia university campuses and “assure that each such institution does not shield students, staff, or individuals on 27 campus from speech protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, 28 including ideas and opinions which such students, staff, or individuals on campus find 29 unwelcoming, disagreeable, or even offensive.”
But both University of Georgia president Jere Morehead and Georgia State University President Mark Becker have spoken out against the bill, Becker calling it “unneeded.”
Sunity Chowdhury, president of Georgia State’s Turning Point, a nonprofit supporting conservative advocacy, said she supports the passage of SB 339, in hopes of college campuses endorsing free speech from both sides.
“Conservatives on campus often do not share their viewpoints because of the backlash we receive from our peers and professors,” she said.
“Many conservatives are labeled ‘racist,’ ‘homophobic’ or ‘xenophobic’ when we express our views, so it’s easier to remain silent.”
And she said it’s no different in Georgia State, where the majority of students and staff do not agree with conservative ideology.
“Therefore, it is not expressed in either private [or] public settings on campus,” Chowdhury said.
The college environment should be a space where different ideas are challenged. This cannot happen if you try to silence the other side,” she said. “It is detrimental to students for a college or university to only host speakers with one particular mindset.”
But according to Gerry Weber, Southern Center for Human Rights attorney and board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, SB 339 still limits speech.
He said the bill places unconstitutional rights on “those raising a viewpoint other than that of a speaker.
“If you raise a point or boo when a racist speaker is speaking, you may be disciplined even if you have not ‘materially and substantially disrupted’ the speaker. The ‘legal standard’ appears nowhere in the new law.”
A point that Chowdhury is not concerned about.
“Many of the students who ‘voice’ their concerns do it in a reprehensible fashion,” she said. “In many cases, they resort to physical violence, slander, and threats in order to prevent a conservative pundit from speaking on their campus. SB 339 will allow the police to intervene when this occurs.”
Correction: The print version of this story referred to Sunity Chowdhury as president of Georgia State’s Turning Point; however, as of April 19, Turning Point is not a registered organization at Georgia State.