Alabama state representative Matt Fridy has just introduced HB498, the Alabama Campus Free Speech Act, into the Alabama State House. Fridy is a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law, and is a strong and effective conservative voice in the Alabama State Legislature. His bill draws on model campus free-speech legislation published by Arizona’s Goldwater Institute. (Along with Jim Manley and Jonathan Butcher, I co-authored that model.) This means that in addition to barring restrictive speech codes and so-called free-speech zones, Fridy’s bill also covers discipline for shout-downs and establishes an effective oversight system as well.
Although it’s sometimes argued that the campus free speech crisis affects only deep-dyed blue states like California and Massachusetts, the problem is national. An Alabama university currently holds the dubious honor of being FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month award winner. And while it was not a full-on shout-down, the recent heckling of CIA director Gina Haspel at Auburn University is a reminder that more serious speaker disruptions could easily occur down the road. It’s only prudent to prepare for that eventuality. There have been other free speech problems at Alabama universities as well, so protection against such abuses is clearly called for.
Fridy’s bill has already drawn praise from the Alabama chapter of the Eagle Forum, a national organization of conservatives with a strong interest in education. Fridy’s bill deserves that support. If it passes as introduced, HB498 will be one of the most comprehensive and effective campus free-speech laws in the country.