Campus ‘safe zone’ ban signed into law by Ariz. Gov. Ducey

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PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a measure Monday opening all state college and university campuses to unfettered speech, ending a policy of establishing specific zones where people can speak freely.

“The First Amendment right of free speech is a bedrock founding principle of our republic,” Ducey, a Republican, said in a statement about the measure. “Likewise, part of the university experience is to be able to express diverse views, openly, without fear of retribution or intimidation – and to be exposed to other views and perspectives, even if they aren’t politically correct or popular.”

The measure provides students the right to exercise free speech without concerns about the time, place and manner unless the public higher education institution can prove the restriction is reasonable and justified, according to the statement. Additionally, it gives students the right to sue and receive an award judgment if the court finds that the university or community college has restricted the student’s speech.

Arizona joined Missouri and Virginia as the only states with policies that bar restricting students’ rights to self expression to certain parts of public college and university campuses, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, in Boston. The organization promotes First Amendment values and produced a study in 2013 that showed 1 in 6 top schools limited students’ free speech rights to certain designated areas, and in many cases controlled access to those spots. Missouri passed its ban, known as Senate Bill 93, last July, about a year after the Virginia statute took effect.

A second measure, House Bill 2548, adds a misdemeanor penalty to any person who obstructs another person’s right to gain access and attend a government meeting, hearing or political event, the Associated Press reported. The legislation increases penalties for anyone who blocks access to political campaign events.

“FIRE applauds Arizona for protecting campus expression — while also protecting the right to hear the views of others,” the nonprofit organization said Tuesday on its website. “We hope other states will follow Arizona’s lead.”

Protesters who obstructed roads to a March rally for Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, inspired state lawmakers to update the law, AP said.

The measure increases penalties for blocking traffic from a Class 3 to a Class 1 misdemeanor if the person intentionally blocks access to a political campaign event or a government meeting or hearing, the news service reported.

“These bills protect free speech throughout our college campuses,” Ducey said in the statement. Also, he said, they “ensure an individual’s right to engage in free speech isn’t shut down by someone else who disagrees with his or her perspective.”