Since 2018, a proposal has been brought forward every year to combat the growing issue of free speech limitations on college campuses. Universities all across the country were feeling the pressure to adopt restrictive harassment codes. These harassment codes are often over-broad and vague. As seen in the rest of the country, several Utah universities had adopted poorly written harassment codes that could be used to punish free speech.
With a growing climate of intolerance, college students across the state have had their constitutional rights trampled on. With the possibility of scholarship revocation or expulsion looming over their heads, students often feel compelled to comply with their university when they receive an unfair or unfounded punishment. State laws were lacking in protection of students’ rights, and federal guidance has been a moving target.
As this issue was argued over at the Utah Legislature, many of Utah’s universities heard the concerns and worked to reform their harassment codes.
But finally, this year the Utah Legislature recognized the merit of not being reliant on the Department of Education or the changing of one federal administration to another for guidance on this matter. They passed Representative Jordan Teuscher’s House Bill 159. It strikes a balance between harassment codes and free speech using the Supreme Court standard from Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999).
While private universities have the right to impose limits on the free speech opportunities of their students, government-funded universities must allow students to exercise their rights to speech without any intervention unless there is actual harassment or legitimate danger to public safety. This bill signals to universities throughout Utah that the free speech rights of their students must be strongly protected.