Editorial: Colorado colleges are modern free-speech refuges

The Gazette (Colorado Springs): Students throughout the country who want a free and liberal education should look to the public universities of Colorado, thanks to the Colorado Legislature, Republican Sen. Tim Neville and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The governor last week signed Senate Bill 62, which The Gazette’s editorial board supported from moments after Neville introduced it early in this legislative session. The new law does something we never thought was needed in a country founded on free speech. It prohibits government universities from limiting, restricting or curtailing peaceful protests, assemblies, voter registration drives, campaigning and other forms of expression.

It may be unpopular to stand on campus with a sign opposing abortion, but campus authorities can no longer forbid such expressions or banish them to obscure “free speech zones” simply because some students object to the message.

“A public institution shall not impose restrictions on the time, place, and manner of student speech unless such restrictions are reasonable, justified without reference to the speech’s content, are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest, and leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information or message,” explains the summary of the bill.

The bill was carefully crafted to avoid protecting speech that is not protected by the First Amendment. That means administrators retain authority to punish someone who yells “fire” in a crowded lecture hall, if the yeller knows there is no fire. Offensive, hateful and unfashionable speech is protected, while speech crafted to incite violence or harm is not.

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