Georgia House passes bill expanding access of protestors on college campuses

Bill focuses on Georgia’s public colleges and technical schools
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 7:39 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -Jordan Madden and James Wilson are student activists at Georgia State University. They usually demonstrate outside the campus student center in an area called the “speech area.”

“Colleges across Georgia colleges have these free speech zones designated for protests. But Friday afternoon, State House lawmakers passed House Bill 1 banning “free speech zones” on public colleges. It allows groups to protest and demonstrate where they’d like on campus as long as the space is publicly accessible.

A growing group of students say the bill threatens their safety when outside protest groups come to campus.

“I think our legislators are not worried about us, our legislators are not concerned about our safety,” Wilson said.

Students’ right to counter protests is limited by legislation which bans disruptive protests or any loud or substantiated noise.

Jordan Madden-Georgia State Student

“It would not allow me to protest whatever they’re promoting on campus” Madden said. “I think it’s a slap in the face to us saying that we hear you but we really don’t want to hear you.”

The ACLU says the bill infringes on first amendment rights. But Republicans supporting the bill argued that it expands and protects free speech.

During debate on the House floor Friday, Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta discussed the motives of the bill that he said in its original form would have allowed discriminatory groups to be sponsored by the state at public campuses.

“When we start to look at the motives,” Dreyer said, “it comes from a myth that conservatives are being discriminated against on college campuses, which we heard over and over again at the committee hearing. On college campuses conservatives, and let’s be real we are talking about white

Several students say they have been threatened and intimidated by hate groups who have come to their campuses to protest in the designated speech areas. They say this bill will allows hate groups they’ve seen on campus an opportunity to expand.

“By the time you realize that there is a neo-Nazi group or a white supremacy group on campus the disruption has already occurred,” Wilson said, adding the expanding the protest area will make it harder for campus security to control the groups.

Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, who sponsors the bill says it’s protecting free speech.

“Part of the intent is to reduce and hopefully eliminate the number of lawsuits filed against our universities,” Bonner told CBS46.