State Rep reminds students that 'speech is not violence'
- Lawmakers in Ohio are planning to introduce a campus free speech bill to guarantee broad First Amendment protections at public colleges and universities.
- Addressing concerns about violence on campus, one of the bill's sponsors said “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.”
Lawmakers in Ohio are planning to introduce a campus free speech bill to guarantee broad First Amendment protections at public colleges and universities.
Republican State Representatives Andy Brenner and Wes Goodman announced their plans to introduce the “Ohio Campus Free Speech Act” Tuesday, just days after a decision by Ohio State University banning all window decorations from dorms.
The legislation will aim to prohibit “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,” Brenner explained in a press release Tuesday.
Another portion of the bill would eliminate the “free speech zones” confining speech to specific parts of college campuses, decreeing that administrators may not limit free expression on any part of campus that is “generally accessible.”
In addition, the bill would also make student activity fees optional, further requiring universities “to distribute student activity fees in a manner that is neutral to each organization’s viewpoint or expression,” Brenner told WKSU.
“In other words,” he explained, “if you are going to charge a fee for one student organization, you are going to charge the exact same fee for all student organizations, regardless of the organization.”
Brenner also wants to eliminate the so-called “heckler’s veto” by prohibiting universities from cancelling a speaker based on the potential reaction from students or community members, telling NBC4 that while neo-Nazis “should be arrested and thrown into jail” if they engage in violence, 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.”
“College is a transformative time for Ohio students,” Goodman noted during the press event. “A free and open exchange of speech and ideas is critical to ensuring that our students have the most meaningful and impactful education experience in a way that prepares them to be active and engaged citizens in our republic.”
Goodman also addressed concerns that the law would lead to violence, saying it is incumbent upon colleges to provide for the safety of students, but not to shield them from potentially unwelcome viewpoints.
“What they do not have a duty to do, is to protect [students] from speech and free expression,” he pointed out, adding that “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.”
Even the prospect of a confrontation between white nationalists and counter-protesters like Antifa did not seem to faze Goodman, who said “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.”
Many students also agree that public universities should be places where free expression is valued, according to The Lantern, which notes that student groups such as Young Americans for Freedom and Students for Life have leveled complaints about administrators trying to prevent them from hosting speakers and confining their expressive activities to tiny “free speech zones.”
“The role of a university is to pursue truth, and as such, universities should value free inquiry above all else,” asserted Dahkota Parrish, the Speaker of the Student Senate at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. “Students only learn when challenged with new ideas.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @asabes10