Bill banning 'free speech zones' at Colorado public colleges signed by governor

DENVER – Colorado’s public colleges will no longer have designated “free speech zones” after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Tuesday that extends First Amendment rights to everywhere on campus.

The bipartisan Senate Bill 62 passed through both legislative houses with near-unanimous support.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, says the passage of the bill means Colorado puts “the highest premium on strengthening our constitutionally-guaranteed rights.”

Set to take effect Aug. 9, the bill prohibits the state’s public colleges from restricting First Amendment rights to any certain part of campus. So-called “free speech zones” have drawn fire nationwide in recent years, as some say they restrict the number of varying viewpoints available to students on college campuses.

“I think more free speech is really the best indicator of everybody being heard and everybody actually being able to focus on the issues that are important to them,” Neville told Denver7 late last month.

Under the new law, students will be allowed to peacefully assemble, protest, picket and circulate petitions and other written materials anywhere on campus so long as they don’t restrict anyone’s access to education.

It says that public colleges would only be able to restrict “the time, place, and manner” of the free expression if four bars are met:

  • The restrictions must be “reasonable;”
  • They must be “justified without reference to the content of the speech;”
  • The restrictions must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest;”
  • The institution must “leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information or message.”

"Once we limit free speech to a zone, we indicate to our students that free speech does not exist anywhere beyond that zone," Neville said. "That is not the message we want to send to future generations about our core values.

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