Free speech on college campuses, balancing freedoms with safety

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – Just days before students moved into the dorms at The Ohio State University, all window decorations were banned.

Some students feel this infringes on their first amendment right to freedom of speech.

It is the latest example they use in their argument that college campuses are stifling some view points over others.

“We’ve got a lot of conservative organizations who feel like that they and their speech is (sic) being repressed by practices that are occurring throughout the United States,” said State Representative Andy Brenner.

Tuesday morning, Brenner and fellow State Representative Wes Goodman announced they will be introducing a Campus Free Speech bill in the coming weeks.

The bill is not ready to be introduced and is only in draft form at this point, but Rep. Brenner shared some of what the bill is being designed to do.

The bill does the following:

  • Prohibits universities and administrators from taking action, including communicating in an official capacity, that limits or chills the expression of any member of the campus community or their invited guests based on the content of the expression
  • Eliminates “free speech zones” by declaring generally accessible areas traditional public forums for expression and prohibiting universities from limiting the space for expression within those areas
  • Prevents “heckler’s vetoes” by prohibiting universities from disinviting speakers based on the potential reaction, opposition, offense, or irritation taken to that speaker’s expression
  • Makes student activity fees optional
  • Requires universities to distribute student activity fees in a manner that is neutral to each organization’s viewpoint and expression
  • Allows those aggrieved by violations of the act to bring a cause of action against the state institution and/or other responsible individuals
  • Requires universities to develop a free speech policy consistent with the act, and to educate their students, faculty, and administrators about the policy

The Ohio State University released a statement in response to the announcement.

“Ohio State has a longstanding commitment to free speech, and we work together to create an environment that fosters the free exchange of ideas on campus. Consistent with the university’s teaching, research, and service missions, the university has rules and standards that address the usage of the university and our spaces, which apply to students, faculty, staff and visitors to the university. All rules and standards are consistent with the First Amendment. This information is communicated at various times throughout the year to all faculty, staff and students and is available online.”

The freedoms laid out in the bill as proposed would extend to all students and their guests, regardless of the content of the speech or the potential for violent outcomes associated with it like what was seen in Charlottesville, VA recently.

However, both representatives feel those individuals have the right to share their opinions on college campuses.

“Say a neo-Nazi were to get violent; they should be arrested and thrown into jail,” said Rep. Brenner. “But they have a right to also stand there, whether I agree with them or not, and say their rhetoric or whatever they want to spew.”

When questioned if his legislation would open students up to violence on campus, Rep. Goodman said the universities still have to keep people safe.

“Campus security has a responsibility and a duty to protect their students from violence; what they do not have a duty to do, is to protect them from speech and free expression,” said Rep. Goodman. “We need to have a real debate in this state and in this country that speech is not violence; that expression is not violence; that violence is violence.”

Rep. Goodman also shared how he envisions a moment of debate between white nationalists and counter-protesters.

“We actually would welcome that debate; we think the way that you do it is through an open and fair process where everyone has a chance to hear an ugly argument and to come back with truth; come back with righteousness; and say, this is what’s true and we’re going to bring that debate on.”

No date has been set for when the representatives will introduce their bill.

 

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