Campus preacher

Junior Lofton, a Christian preacher, talks to a group of pro-Israeli protesters and students. Lofton, 73, has been preaching to students for 32 years as of April 2014 and typically visits Turlington Plaza three days a week.

Alligator File Photo

Some days, Fiona Murphy goes out of her way to avoid Turlington Plaza.

When political protesters and religious speakers set up shop in the center of campus, the UF sustainability studies senior would rather take the long way than listen to the noise.

“If you’re just trying to walk to class and you have people with opposing views from you, it’s just kind of distracting,” the 21-year-old said.

If a new Florida Senate bill passes, Murphy may have a harder time avoiding free speech zones on campus.

The “Campus Free Expression Act,” would prevent public institutions of higher education, like UF, from restricting free speech to certain areas of campus, known as “free speech zones.” Under this bill, which was introduced Jan. 11, free speech would be permitted in all outdoor areas of campus, as long as it doesn’t disrupt school operations.

Students, faculty or staff who disrupt free speech activities could be fined up to $100,000. Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said there will be debate over what disrupting means.

Cristian Dionisi, 19, a UF mathematics sophomore, said he fully supports the aspect of the bill that would forbid students, faculty and staff from disrupting another person’s speech. He said he feels many speakers on Turlington Plaza are currently heckled by students to the point that it infringes on their free speech.

“I strongly support the different perspectives, and whether we agree or disagree with them, I think it’s important for us to listen to them,” he said.

LoMonte said the bill likely wouldn’t cause dramatic changes at UF since free speech is already permitted in the most centralized spots of campus like Turlington Plaza and the Plaza of the Americas.

“I don’t see a big problem today where people are being forced into remote little corners of the campus to give their speeches,” he said. “That’s where the policies are really the problem.”

Contact Jessica Giles at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jessica_giles_.