Ohio Legislature to Consider Campus Free Speech Act

Published October 5, 2017

State Reps. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Wes Goodman (R-Cardington) announced at a press conference in August they plan to introduce the Ohio Campus Free Speech Act.

The bill, according to the Ohio House of Representatives website, would “[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, [eliminate] ‘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, and [require] universities to develop a free speech policy consistent with the act, and to educate their students, faculty, and administrators about the policy,” among other things.

“This common-sense legislation is based on a simple premise; that the laws, policies, and conduct of Ohio’s public universities be fully consistent with the First Amendment,” Goodman wrote in a September op-ed for The Hill.

‘Heckler’s Veto’

Daniel J. Dew, a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute’s Legal Center, says the Free Speech Act would help prevent dominant groups on campus from using threats of disruption and violence to block expression of opposing points of view.

“Places of learning, especially college campuses, are supposed to welcome vigorous academic debate,” Dew said. “Instead of combating speech with speech, we are seeing what’s known in legalese as the ‘heckler’s veto.’ The heckler’s veto happens when government doesn’t allow speech based on the possibility of violence by those opposed to the speaker’s views. Universities across the country have been suppressing speech by uninviting unpopular speakers because of violent threats made by those opposed to the speaker. Or if they don’t cancel the speech, administrators are allowing protestors to go beyond speech and into threatening, blocking access to the event, or even violent behavior.

“This legislation would be a step in the right direction to ensure that college campuses fulfill the promise of the First Amendment by directing university administrators to do the right thing,” Dew said.

Praises the Bill

Jenna A. Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, says the legislation would make college campuses better places to learn.

“This bill will significantly improve free speech protections in Ohio,” Robinson said. “It will ensure that students’ First Amendment rights are protected and will help ensure that Ohio’s campuses are places of vigorous debate and open inquiry. It will enshrine public campuses as the centers of free, open, and transparent public discourse.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.


State Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell): http://www.ohiohouse.gov/andrew-brenner/contact

State Rep. Wesley Goodman (R-Cardington): http://www.ohiohouse.gov/wesley-a-goodman