Georgia State Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville) has put forward a bill in the Georgia General Assembly that, if enacted into law, would grant greater First Amendment rights to students at the state’s institutions of higher learning.
Bonner named the bill the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act.
Bonner said school administrators currently grant students their First Amendment rights only in designated areas. School administrators thus control speech on campus, he said.
“This is definitely an issue here in Georgia,” Bonner told The Georgia Star News Thursday.
“It seems that every year it goes on it becomes a little more egregious.”
Bonner said his bill would eliminate a school’s free speech zones, eliminate a school’s speech codes, and protect students’ freedoms of assembly.
“It says that essentially the entire campus — the common areas — are the free speech zones, not the two foot by two foot square behind the parking deck at the student center. Everywhere on campus,” Bonner said.
“There is some common sense built into it. You can’t stand up in the middle of a class and yell whatever. You can’t run onto the football field. We are talking about places normally accessible by students. All the open areas. The quad and those kinds of places, essentially the common areas on that campus. That would be where students could exercise their First Amendment rights. They would not be restricted to a certain spot on a piece of ground or a certain time of day they could exercise those rights.”
Bonner said legislators introduced the same bill during the most recent session of the Georgia General Assembly, but they later pulled it.
“It came through the Senate and got to the House. The House bill got out of committee and was en route to the House floor for a vote, but the language of the bill changed so much during the committee process that we pulled it before it went to the House floor,” Bonner said.
The altered language, Bonner said, gave University of Georgia administrators an override, but he did not elaborate.
“COVID-19 had just started in Georgia, and that impacted our session,” Bonner said.
“We ran out the clock, so we held off and reintroduced it this session.”
Officials at the University of Georgia did not return The Star News’request for comment before Thursday’s stated deadline.
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