North Dakota enacts law ensuring colleges and universities fulfill their First Amendment obligations

North Dakota enacts law ensuring colleges and universities fulfill their First Amendment obligations

2021-04-19 21:09:48

The Chamber of the United States House of Representatives in North Dakota. The bill was sponsored by House Speaker Kim Koppelman and Reps. Rick Becker, Mary Johnson and Bernie Satrom, and in the Senate by Sens. Dick Dever, Michael Dwyer and Ray Holmberg. (Nagel Photography /

North Dakota enforces laws that ensure colleges and universities meet their First Amendment obligations


April 19, 2021

BISMARCK, N.D., April 19, 2021 – North Dakota government Doug Burgum today codified key protections of freedom of speech for students and teachers at North Dakota's public colleges and universities by signing law HB 1503

The law – supported in the legislative process by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national, impartial civil liberties organization, through testimony, collaboration with lawmakers, and research into North Dakota's university policies – amends the inadequate statute adopted at the 2019 legislative session.

The law:

  • Adopts the speech-protective definition of student-to-student harassment as set forth by the United States Supreme Court Davis v Monroe County Board of Education, defining student-to-student harassment as conduct that is "so serious, pervasive and objectively offensive" that it effectively prevents a student victim from gaining equal access to educational opportunities or benefits;
  • clarifies that public higher education institutions are prohibited from quarantining student phrases in small, misleadingly labeled "free speech zonesAnd establishes outskirts of campus as public forums for free speech by students, faculty, and invitees;
  • requires that students, student organizations and faculty are allowed to invite guest speakers to campus regardless of the guest speakers' opinion or the position or content of the expected speech;
  • prevents colleges from charging safety fees to students and student organizations based on the content of their utterances or the expected response to an invited guest's speech;
  • instructs public colleges and universities to fund student organizations in a position-neutral way and protects the right of faith-based student organizations to ensure that their leadership reflects their specific beliefs; and
  • protects the academic freedom and freedom of speech of the faculty by ensuring that the faculty has a safe haven that protects them from discipline for speech in the classroom that is relevant to the topic of the class.

In addition to establishing a speech-protective policy framework for future campuses, HB 1503 addresses current and pressing issues within the policies of various North Dakota higher education institutions. Internal FIRE investigation found that no institution in North Dakota consistently defines student harassment in accordance with the Davis standard. Additionally, we found that nearly two-thirds of government agencies' written policies charge security fees for speakers invited by students and faculty based on the expectation of a negative response, which is a violation of the US Supreme Court. precedent

“By enacting court-recognized standards for freedom of speech on campus, the North Dakota legislature ensures that written policies in schools across the state respect freedom of speech,” said Joe Cohn, the legislature and policy director of FIRE. "With legislation already passed that guarantees a free campus press and due process for accused students in disciplinary hearings, North Dakota is now the national leader in ensuring the civil liberties of its students."

The bill was sponsored in the North Dakota House of Representatives by speaker Kim Koppelman and representatives. Rick Becker, Mary Johnson and Bernie Satrom, and in the Senate by Sens. Dick Dever, Michael Dwyer and Ray Holmberg.

With the passage of HB 1503, North Dakota joins Alabama Arizona Arkansas Colorado Florida Georgia Iowa Kentucky Louisiana Missouri Montana North Carolina Ohio Oklahoma south Dakota Tennessee Texas Utah, and Virginia as the 20th state to pass legislation prohibiting public colleges and universities from relegating student expression to so-called "free speech zones." In addition, North Dakota joins in Alabama Arkansas Montana Ohio Oklahoma Tennessee, and Utah as the eighth state requiring colleges and universities to align their anti-harassment policies with First Amendment jurisprudence. Regulations issued by the federal government in 2020 also adopted the Davis standard to settle Title IX matters.

As it has done with dozens of institutions around the country, FIRE is on hand to assist North Dakota colleges in reviewing their policies in light of legal requirements. This work is performed free of charge for institutions or taxpayers, in accordance with the FIRE charity mission.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is an impartial, non-profit organization dedicated to defending and upholding the individual rights of students and teachers of U.S. colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, fair trial, legal equality, religious freedom and sanctity of conscience – the essential qualities of freedom.


Katie Kortepeter, Media Relations Associate, FIRE: 215-717-3473; [email protected]


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