Georgia’s public colleges and universities have been using unconstitutional speech zones to suppress Christian speech in a state where traditional Christians make up a large part of the citizenry. The most notorious case involves Gwinnett College. Its speech zone policy has been challenged in court, and Attorney General Sessions has directed the Department of Justice to file a “statement of interest” supporting the challenge.
One would think that a bill to protect campus free speech in Georgia would take on speech zones. After all, in most states considering such legislation free speech zones rank high on the list of abuses dealt with. As Stanley Kurtz says:
Speech zones are generally the easiest problem for legislatures to fix. The initial wave of campus free-speech laws specifically targeted speech zones as an easily outlawed, facially unconstitutional practice. Most often zones were banned with strong bipartisan support.
But not in Georgia. There, says Stanley, a bill meant to protect free speech on campus has been stripped of all protections against speech zones.
According to Stanley, this is the result of intense lobbying by the universities. The presidents of the University of Georgia and Georgia State University have denied or downplayed all campus free speech problems. In fact, Stanley reports, the president of Georgia State University denied that there was a national campus free-speech crisis at all.
Tell that to Christian students at Gwinnett State, where the right to free expression is confined to two tiny speech zones that occupy less than 0.0015 percent of the campus, and are open only 18 hours a week. And where a student preaching a standard Christian message about Jesus within the zone was silenced because he violated campus policy on “disorderly conduct,” which applies to anything that “disturbs the comfort” of the listener.
Tell that to the Christian student organization at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University that was forced to confine its pro-life display to a tiny out-of-the-way speech zone consisting of less than 0.08 percent of Kennesaw’s 405 acre campus. The Christian group alleges that an administrator said if it removed the pro-life posters she deemed most “controversial,” she would upgrade their protest to a less out-of-the-way zone. The group refused to be censored and thus was relegated to an area far away from students. By contrast, the university permitted an LGBT group to reserve all seven speech zones for its “Pride Day” demonstration.
Stanley concludes that without protection against free speech zones, nobody’s speech will be safe on Georgia’s public college campuses.
If even the dominant view in Georgia can be ostracized and banned at its universities through flagrantly unconstitutional acts, then the rights of every student in the state are will be subject to the whims of irresponsible administrators. Georgia deserves better.