US Legislative Briefer: Campus Speech Bills and the Right to Protest


Universities in the United States have long been associated with campus protest, and recent years, this tradition has been revitalized: Many campuses are seeing a surge in student demonstrations, whether related to Black Lives Matter, immigration policies, environmental campaigns, or other issues. Amidst a charged national political environment, some of the most publicized protests have been against speakers on campus viewed as politically polarizing.

In this context, legislation has been proposed in statehouses across the country purportedly aiming to ensure “free speech” on state university campuses. These bills generally address a range of issues related to speech activities. Some provisions have garnered broad support from free speech advocates. Others are likely not to expand free speech rights, but instead limit or chill the right to peacefully assemble and protest on state university campuses.

This briefer focuses on provisions of bills with some of the most negative implications for protest rights. It divides these provisions into those banning protests that infringe on the expressive rights of others, mandatory sanctions, litigation, and university neutrality.