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Nixon signs bill to eliminate free speech zones on campuses

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri became just the second state in the nation making designated free speech zones on state college campuses obsolete.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed S.B. 93, the “Campus Free Expression Act,” Tuesday, effectively banning state universities from instituting specific free speech zones on their campus. In turn, these zones conversely made it against university rules to hold protests, speeches and other forms of speech on parts of the campus not designated as such.

Sen. Ed Emery (R – Lamar) acted as the sponsor, and Rep. Rick Brattin (R – Harrisonville) handled the bill in the House. In the Senate, the bill passed unanimously.

“Free speech is not a right or left issue,” Brattin said. “It’s an individual liberty and freedom we all hold dear to our heart. It’s sad that it comes to this point that we have to pass legislation to uphold these First Amendment rights.”

Brattin noted that the bill became a necessary piece of legislation when lawmakers discovered the Missouri State University – West Plains campus utilized a basketball court near the student rec center as their only free speech zone. MSU – West Plains has since expanded their free speech offerings, but Brattin still noted it was problematic to contain free speech to certain areas.

“The fact of the matter remains that universities have a track record at silencing free speech, especially in cases… that they disagree with,” Brattin said, adding that across the nation, colleges and universities had become less accepting of free speech.

The University of Missouri, currently the largest public university in the state by enrollment, offered a statement in regards to their “Speaker’s Circle,” stating that anyone speaking there  “can be most visible without interfering with the normal functions of a very busy campus.”

A representative for the school stated the university may change its policies after reviewing the legislation.

Missouri joins Virginia as the only two states with laws on the books designed to protect the First Amendment rights of students and faculty Virginia passed their law last year.