Proposed NJ law aims to protect free speech on college campuses
TRENTON — Assemblyman Ron Dancer says when he was in his early 20s, freedom of speech actually existed. But now it's "just a slogan" and not a constitutional right on campus.
Dancer, R-Ocean, has introduced legislation that would "counter efforts to stifle free speech at college campuses" — incidents of which have popped up throughout the nation, he said, such as restricted literature distribution and designated free speech zones.
"There needs to be genuine, bona fide freedom of expression, not limited and restricted as has been the case," Dancer told New Jersey 101.5.
Under the measure, which was referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee, outdoor areas of public colleges and universities in the Garden State would be considered a public forum for members of the campus community and invited guests. The higher education institutions would be required to adopt policies protecting freedom of expression; those policies would be submitted to the Governor and Legislature by an independent committee on free expression.
Sixteen other U.S. states have similar laws on the books, Dancer said. Six states made the move in 2019.
The bill also includes discipline for those who block a person or group's freedom of speech on campus. A minimum punishment of one academic term would be permitted for someone who disrupted the expressive rights of others more than once; punishments less than a full term would have to be explained in writing to the newly created committee.
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