Free speech sweeps through North Carolina campuses

East Carolina University became the latest "green light" campus in recognition of its controversial decision to allow conservative commentator Tomi Lahren to speak on campus.

Six North Carolina colleges have now earned "green light" ratings from FIRE for their free speech policies, including four that earned the distinction in the past two months.

A total of six colleges in North Carolina have recently earned the highest “green light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

East Carolina University (ECU), the latest addition to the list, earned its free speech rating following a controversial decision to allow conservative commentator Tomi Lahren to speak on campus in April.

According to FIRE’s press release, ECU joins 32 other colleges around the country with written policies that “do not imperil student and faculty expression.”

“The University of North Carolina at Charlotte earned the same rating last week, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina Central University both earned green light status in May,” FIRE explained, noting that “Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill previously earned FIRE’s highest rating for campus free speech.”

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Giovanni Triana, chairman of ECU’s Turning Point USA chapter, said the push in favor of free speech began when students in his club decided it was time to take back their first amendment rights.

“Shortly after I arrived on campus I realized that our free speech rights were limited to three areas on campus, and we had to ask for permission ahead of time just to use it,” Triana told Campus Reform. “Meanwhile, ECU’s marching band made headlines for thinking it was okay for them to kneel during the national anthem.”

While Triana condemned the marching band’s political statement, he acknowledged that free speech couldn’t be restricted by the public school’s policy.

“After garnering the support of the Black Student Union, the Asian Student Association, chapters of Young Americans for Liberty, and the College Republicans, my group planned to protest the speech code. The only group that didn’t join us was the chapter of the College Democrats,” he said. “Just days before the protest, however, the administration reached out to me and offered to diplomatically come to a solution to the issue.”

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Following the administration’s pledge to support free speech on college campus, the university was criticised for planning to host the conservative firebrand Tomi Lahren. Despite the pressure to cancel the event, however, ECU allowed Lahren to come to campus and speak about millennial issues, including the importance of free speech.

With the support of the student senate, ECU’s speech policy—formerly titled “Freedom of Expression Regulation”—has also gone through five revisions, leading to a new policy called “Assemblies and Public Addresses in Designated Public Forums.”

“At ECU we are committed to free speech and freedom of expression on our campus,” Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy told FIRE. “We want our students, faculty, staff and guests to feel comfortable exercising their rights and exploring their ideas. Allowing the opportunity for freedom of expression and civil discourse around differing views has always been, and continues to be, a mainstay of institutions of higher learning.”

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Alongside the university’s internal revisions, some North Carolina lawmakers also spearheaded a campaign to implement free speech legislation on a state level.

In late June, the North Carolina state house successfully passed HB527 reaffirming the state’s commitment to “restore and preserve campus free speech.”

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