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North Carolina House passes campus free speech bill

The Charlotte Observer reports on the latest campus free speech legislative action in North Carolina, where the state house passed House Bill 527 by an 88-32 vote:

House Bill 527, dubbed “Restore/preserve campus free speech,” is a mandate for public universities to “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression.” The bill would require public universities to have a range of sanctions for protesters who disrupt events or interfere with others’ free speech rights. Universities would have to teach students about free speech policies during freshman orientation.

The bill follows a series of recent national controversies in which loud and unruly protests shut down speaker events at schools such as Middlebury College, Brown University and University of California-Berkeley. This week, two student groups sued UC-Berkeley after the university canceled a speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter. Coulter vowed to show up for Thursday’s speech anyway, but canceled on Wednesday after a conservative sponsor pulled out of the event, citing security concerns. Amid the speaker skirmishes, legislatures in several states have debated bills that force free speech rules on campuses. The North Carolina bill is based on model legislation from the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based conservative and libertarian public policy think tank.

The bill has been championed by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Republican lawmakers.

It would require the UNC Board of Governors to establish a Committee on Free Expression to report annually on university barriers to free speech and how it maintains “a posture of administrative and institutional neutrality with regard to political or social issues.”

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