Georgia Improves Free Speech Law by Enacting FORUM Law

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law the FORUM Act after authorizing the state legislature. (Vadim Fedotov /

by Michael Hurley

May 3, 2022

Today Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 1, also known as the FORUM Act, passed after being passed by the Senate with bipartisan support and clearing the House. FIRE provided written support for the bill, which makes significant improvements to a campus speech bill passed in 2018, previously known as the Senate Bill 339.

Among other provisions, the 2018 bill required higher education institutions to “maintain and publish policies regarding time, location, and content-independent restrictions on expressive activities by the least restrictive means.” , consistent with relevant First Amendment case law, necessary to provide use of facilities and resources under the control of the institution to all student groups and guest lecturers.

This provision was intended to prevent institutions from quarantining expressive activity to tiny, distant, and misleadingly titled “free speech zones.”

The FORUM law improves this provision in two ways.

First, the standard used in SB 339 was stricter than that used by standard courts to strike down free speech zones under the First Amendment. The FORUM law remedies this by modifying the wording of the law to accurately reflect the abundant case law. State law now allows colleges and universities to impose reasonable “time, place, and manner” regulations on campus expressive activity, but only when those regulations

  1. are neutral in terms of point of view and content,
  2. are closely tailored to serve an important government interest, and
  3. leave wide alternative channels open for expressive activity.

Second, the FORUM Act further clarifies that schools cannot quarantine expressive activity by establishing the unrestricted outdoor areas of state campuses as public forums and explicitly prohibiting public higher education institutions from create “”free speech zones” or other designated areas of campus outside of which expressive activity is prohibited for the campus community. Georgia is among 22 states to have banned free speech zones , next to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginiaand West Virginia.

FIRE welcomes these improvements to the state’s campus free speech law.

The FORUM Act also adopts the speech protection definition of student-to-student harassment set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, which defines student-to-student bullying as behavior “so serious, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively prevents the victim from accessing an educational opportunity or benefit”. Colleges must use the Davis Standard if they are to fulfill their dual legal responsibilities of combating discriminatory and harassing behavior and protecting freedom of expression.

To ensure compliance with its provisions, the FORUM Act requires state colleges and universities to demonstrate transparency by publishing their expressive activity policies “in their textbooks, on their websites, and through their orientation programs” and developing “materials, programs, and procedures” that educate campus administrators and other university officials about their responsibilities with respect to on-campus speaking activities. These requirements help ensure that students are aware of their institution’s policies and that administrators understand how to apply them.

The FORUM Act was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Bruce Thompson and in the House by Representatives Josh Bonner, Ginny Ehrhart, Todd Jones, Rick Williams, Joseph Gullett and Wes Cantrell. FIRE welcomes these improvements to the state’s campus free speech law. As we have already done with dozens of institutions across the country, FIRE is ready to help Georgia colleges as they revise their policies in light of the requirements of the law. This work is carried out free of charge for institutions or taxpayers, in accordance with the charitable mission of FIRE.

Melvin B. Baillie