Posted on July 17, 2019

Decoding HB 498: What You Need to Know About Alabama’s New Free Speech Bill

Olivia Davis, Crimson White, July 16, 2019

On June 6, Gov. Kay Ivey signed HB 498 into law, requiring public universities in Alabama to adopt policies protecting campus free speech. This legislation addresses several issues surrounding free speech on public universities, specifically citing university officials’ ability to cancel campus speakers and the establishment of free speech zones.


The Republican-sponsored bill comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring colleges to promote free speech or risk losing federal research funds, and Alabama is one of several states that have followed suit.


The University of Alabama has experienced the debate of free speech on public universities firsthand.

In the spring of 2018, an event held at the University featuring a white nationalist speaker was canceled, and the student group hosting the event had its status as a campus organization withdrawn. Jared Taylor, editor of the online “American Renaissance” website, was invited by the student group Students for America First. He was scheduled to give a talk titled “Diversity: Is it Good for America?” After receiving backlash from students, and even some campus officials, the group dissolved – but only because their advisor had quit.


Now signed into law, HB 498 will be implemented in July 2020. The law creates several new regulations for universities to comply with, specifically dealing with invitations to speakers and organizations and the creation of free speech zones on campus.

Abolishing free speech zones

{snip} Critics of free speech zones say that the practice squelches free speech by confining it to certain areas. Currently, the University does not have free speech zones.

This law will disestablish free speech zones and instead focus on protecting free speech throughout the entire campus. Because all outdoor areas of campus are now protected for free speech, the bill also prohibits public universities in Alabama from creating free speech zones.

Prohibiting fee adjustments and disinvitations

The law will also prohibit campuses from adjusting security fees of invited guests who may receive backlash for “ideas and opinions the individuals may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive,” as well as prohibit university officials from disinviting those guests.

HB 498 states that disrupting any event in a way that infringes on a person’s ability to listen to a speaker is strictly prohibited. {snip}

Protection against disruptive material

Although HB 498 outlines protection for speaking one’s opinions freely, it does not safeguard all types of speech. Section 3, article 6 states,

“The public institution of higher education shall not permit members of the campus community to engage in conduct that materially and substantially disrupts another person’s expressive activity or infringes on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity and shall adopt a range of disciplinary sanctions for anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others.”



The push for further protection of campus free speech has been a trend nationwide, as universities have dealt with backlash for campus speakers and events. Petitions and protests aimed at preventing events have sometimes led universities to revoke invitations to the often politically polarizing, radically religious or controversial individuals or organizations receiving the backlash.


Several states around the nation have passed similar legislation aimed at protecting free speech on public universities. Missouri, Arizona, Virginia, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee, Lousianna, North Carolina and Georgia are a few examples of other states confronting this same issue.



Opponents of the bill argue that these new regulations will protect radical, potentially racist speakers who are invited to universities through campus clubs and organizations, and the consequences could be violent.

The protests that have taken place in the past against controversial speakers or organizations invited to campuses across the nation are direct examples of these safety concerns. Many opponents of the bill believe that college administrators should have the ability to decide who or what is allowed to accept invitations to their institutions.


While some students have argued for more restrictions, others have claimed that the current practice of university officials dictating who or what is invited to campus is unfair treatment and goes against their rights to self expression and freedom of speech.


Parts of the bill that may affect campuses most are those that prohibit increasing security fines to organizations. If security is increased due to campus backlash, that funding cannot fall on the organization or the speaker, instead falling under the responsibility of the university. In October 2017, Richard Spencer spoke to students of the University of Florida, and security costs passed $500,000.