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Cotton, Colleagues Introduce Legislation Protecting Free Speech on College Campuses

August 6, 2020

Washington, D.C.- Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) along with Senators Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Kevin Cramer (R-North Dakota), and Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) today introduced the Campus Free Speech Restoration Act, a bill that protects the First Amendment rights of students at public universities from unconstitutional speech codes and so-called free speech zones. It also requires private colleges and universities to honestly disclose their policies on free expression, and obligates private institutions to uphold the policies they disclose.

"Too many of America's public colleges have attacked the First Amendment rights of their students using so-called free speech zones and unconstitutional speech codes. This bill fights back against campus censors in order to defend open debate and free speech, which lead us to truth," said Cotton.

"Free speech is a cornerstone of our nation. When universities improperly restrict it, they go against the Constitution and our country's founding principles," said Cramer. "Our bill protects a student's right to openly express their views without fear of censorship."

"We are seeing the damaging effects of cancel culture and ‘group think' in all aspects of our society, and college campuses are some of the worst offenders," said Loeffler. "The First Amendment applies to all Americans no matter their age, political party or deeply held religious beliefs. This bill will ensure students on college campuses will be able to express their beliefs without the fear of censorship or retribution."

Specifically, the Act:

  • Establishes the sense of Congress that students should be free to express and hold their opinions on matters of religion and philosophy on college campuses; that free speech zones and restrictive speech codes are contrary to the First Amendment; and that public colleges should not restrict the First Amendment rights of their students.
  • Prohibits public colleges from restricting free speech and expression on campus, except in limited and viewpoint-neutral circumstances consistent with the First Amendment.
  • Requires private colleges and universities that receive federal funding to be transparent about their speech policies and enforce those policies in a consistent and neutral manner.
  • Creates a review process within the Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education to determine whether campus speech policies infringe on the First Amendment rights of individuals on campus, on penalty of losing federal funding.
  • Creates a cause of action in federal court for the Attorney General or other parties to challenge restrictions on speech and expression on campus.
  • The requirements of the Act do not apply to colleges and universities controlled by religious institutions

Click here for the text of the legislation.