This legislative battle actually brought a few of those on the left to work with those on the right. The result was “victory.”
It’s not often that a conservative college student and liberal college student stand side-by-side in support of legislation at the Kentucky State Capitol, but this year, that’s exactly what Sebastian Torres and Michael Frazier did. The two of them teamed up to advocate for free speech at Kentucky’s public universities. Torres, President of Northern Kentucky University’s Federalist Society, and Frazier, head of the Kentucky Young Democrat LGBTQ Caucus at the University of Kentucky, linked arms to reform campus free speech policies, including free speech zones, student organization fees and disruptive counter protests.
Strengthening their position, the two of them rallied the support of over 25 politically diverse student organizations from around Kentucky to support House Bill 254 – Campus Free Speech Act, sponsored by Rep. Savannah Maddox (R- Dry Ridge), and companion Senate Bill 117, sponsored by Sen. Wil Schroder (R-Wilder). These student organizations had themselves experienced violations of their First Amendment rights, including disruptive protesters during authorized events, educational displays being destroyed, and voter registration drives being denied.
“If we remain silent or allow others’ First Amendment rights to be restricted, then we ourselves run in danger of being silenced and censored as well,” said Frazier.
A national, nonpartisan students’ rights group, Freedom of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), confirmed the First Amendment violations the students had experienced. FIRE assessed the practices and policies of nine universities in Kentucky and found only one campus qualified for the “Green Light” rating – having no unconstitutional restrictions on free speech.
At the beginning of the 2019 Session, staff of The Family Foundation was optimistic the Campus Free Speech Act would pass both Chambers without problem, but a last-minute attempt was made by the ACLU, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs (KASAP) and the Fairness Campaign to “kill” the bill. These progressive groups claimed the bill would curtail free speech, was discriminatory, and would allow harassment.
HB 254 passed the Kentucky House and Senate mostly down Party lines with overwhelming support – 64-33 in the House and 30-7 in the Senate. In her Floor speech for the bill, sponsor Rep. Maddox said, “When we quarantine any person to a Free Speech Zone, we limit our own activism, including our ability to speak out against what we disagree with.”
“Of all the policy battles The Family Foundation engaged in this Session, the Campus Free Speech Act was our hardest fought victory,” said Cole Cuzick, policy analyst for The Family Foundation. “Without the support of citizens calling in from across the state, the Campus Free Speech Act may not have passed.”
With the passage of House Bill 254, policies of Kentucky’s public universities will better protect the First Amendment rights of both students and faculty.