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Ohio Republicans introduce campus free-speech bill

Some Ohio State students respond to the University’s window art ban with messages such as “My rights” displayed above “Your policies”. Credit: Courtesy of Fred Squillante | The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State students aren’t the only group of people concerned about free speech on campus.

Ohio House Republicans Wes Goodman and Andrew Brenner announced the Campus Free Speech Act in a press conference on Tuesday morning at the Ohio Statehouse, which seeks to further protect the First Amendment rights of students at public universities in Ohio.

“This commonsense legislation is based on a simple premise: the laws, policies, and conduct of Ohio’s public universities be fully consistent with the First Amendment,” Goodman said.

The act would eliminate “free-speech zones” on campuses by arguing that free speech should not be limited to any one specific area.

The proposal, yet to be officially introduced, would require universities to neutrally and evenly distribute activity fees and allow students to bring a cause of action against an institution they believe to be limiting their free speech.

The action would also prevent the uninviting or blocking of speakers based on student reactions, as well as prohibiting the university from taking action that limits freedom of expression of students, such as Ohio State’s recent ban on window art.

“For Ohio State, this bill could not have come at a more opportune time,” said James Smith, co-founder of the Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Ohio State, referencing the recent window art ban implemented by the university. “It was clear that this policy was nothing more than an attack on free speech.”

As word of the ban spread, some students have been defying the newly implemented policy by continuing to post messages in their dorm room windows.

Some were as simple as “Hey” in Post-it notes, while other messages such as “My rights” displayed above “Your policies” took aim at the ban itself.

Smith said The Young Americans Foundation, a conservative student organization, will be holding a free speech rally Wednesday at The Oval and will be petitioning students in an effort to have the university reverse its policy.

Ultimately, the bill says that public universities would have to develop a free speech policy compliant with this act. Of the public universities in Ohio, all but one have active policies that could be interpreted as allowing the suppression of free speech, Goodman said.

“College is a transformative time for Ohio students,” Goodman said. “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 cited the “difficult national dialogue” that has been limiting freedom of speech across the country as colleges have been limiting their students’ ability to express opinions.

The act does not intend to advance any certain opinions, but to allow Ohio students to have every ability to vocalize their opinions and open up debate.

Representatives from Citizens for Community Values and Students for Life gave examples of pro-life supporters being denied funding from universities because of their beliefs and having their opinions limited to a “free-speech zone.”

Dahkota Parrish, speaker of the student senate at Capital University, said their student government passed a free speech bill that later became university policy.

“The role of a university is to pursue truth, and as such, universities should value free inquiry above all else,” Goodman said. “Students only learn when challenged with new ideas.”

Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government is meeting with Student Life administrators Wednesday and plans to discuss the window art ban.

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