Georgia Senate passes anti-LGBTQ college ‘free speech’ bill

The Georgia Senate advanced a bill that bans “free speech zones” on college campuses despite several lawmakers’ concerns that the measure allows discrimination. 

Senate Bill 318 forces Georgia taxpayers to “subsidize discrimination,” according to state Sen. Zahra Karinshak, a Democrat from Duluth.

“Make no mistake, this legislation is an effort to force Georgia taxpayers to support organizations on college campuses that discriminates against our fellow citizens,” she said from the well of the Senate on Monday. 

“That discrimination could be based on sexual orientation, on religion, on someone having a disability, or any other variety of reasons. In 2020 this is simply unacceptable,” she added.

State Sen. William Ligon (photo), a Republican from Brunswick who introduced the bill, said the measure would ensure that all common areas on public college campuses are open to speakers, no matter how controversial they are.

“This will protect and clarify the First Amendment rights that our students should enjoy at our public colleges and universities,” he said.

State Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat from Atlanta, cited the University System of Georgia’s objections to the bill. 

“They understand their campuses, they understand their students on their campuses, and what we are essentially saying is that we know better how to handle free speech … and we don’t trust them at all to know their students,” Parent said.

USG’s senior legal counsel said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 1 that the bill prevents public colleges and universities from enforcing its nondiscrimination policies. There are 28 schools in the USG system, including the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University. Georgia Equality and the ACLU have also spoken out against the measure.

The Senate passed the bill 32-21 on a party-line vote. It now heads to the House for consideration. A companion bill with similar language was introduced in the House in February, drawing the same concerns about discrimination. 

Ligon is one of two lawmakers with long anti-LGBTQ records who are not seeking re-election to the Georgia Senate this year.