But skeptics are still right to worry that the President’s order might not be confined to measures that actually support free speech. Many draft and actual campus speech measures can have unintended, and sometimes serious, negative consequences for open discourse.
PEN America has previously reported how several bills and laws include overbroad and vague language that imposes harsh discipline for acts that purportedly infringe upon the speech rights of others. A 2017 North Carolina law requires disciplining those who “substantially interfere with the protected free expression rights of others . . . including protests and demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in and listen to expressive activity.”
But the bill doesn’t specify how “substantial” such interference must be. A vociferous protest that delays the start of a lecture or creates a persistent rumble outside the lecture hall would almost certainly constitute protected speech under the First Amendment, yet warrant punishment pursuant to this law.