Conservative author, lawyer, and journalist Ben Shapiro testified Tuesday at the Ohio State House in favor of a bill that would require public universities to provide an equal platform to voices across the political spectrum.
HB 758, also called the FORUM Act –standing for “forming open and robust university minds” – seeks to reverse the trend of state-funded campuses suppressing speech that doesn’t fall in line with certain politically correct doctrines.
Naraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), who is the youngest member of the State House, introduced the bill, which would also ban free-speech zones on campuses.
Shapiro addressed concerns Tuesday from some lawmakers that the bill might encourage radical hate groups like the KKK to hold events to “purposely disrupt” college campuses.
He said most universities require that speakers be invited by a sponsoring student group.
“It’s not like someone is just walking into the middle of the college campus and yelling about things,” said Shapiro, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire. “And that’s one way the university can ensure that it’s not just the local chapter of the KKK showing up.”
He added, however, that he tends to be “more free-speech absolutist.”
“And I despise with every fiber of my being, the KKK, for reasons that are obvious,” said Shapiro, who practices Orthodox Judaism. “They don’t tend to like the hat that I wear. I don’t like their hat, either!”
“With that said, I think the dangers of the government picking and choosing which messages ought to be allowed in space and which message ought not to be allowed in space is more of a problem than evil people espousing evil views on state property,” Shapiro continued. “I think the best answer to bad speech is more speech. It’s been befuddling to watch, actually, as groups like the ACLU, which used to argue the rights of the KKK, has sort of slipped on its heel and is now suggesting that the state has a role in policing hate speech.”
Shapiro said he agrees there is such a thing as hateful speech, but argued that it’s the reaction to it that can make a difference.
“We all have a duty as moral human beings to fight that hateful speech,” he said. “But I think also that once you put somebody at the top of that chain of power deciding what speech they like and what speech they don’t, I’m more uncomfortable with someone at the top holding the sword of Damocles deciding which speech is good and which speech is bad than I am with bad people speaking and other people protesting, or ignoring them, which by the way, is indeed the best solution.”
Some argued on Antani’s Facebook page that more laws are not needed to affirm what is already guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“Why do we need a law to confirm the original law of the land, the 1st Amendment?” asked Stephen W. Hawkins.
“Universities have consistently violated free speech rights of conservative and pro-life students,” Antani responded. “There is much case law that exists but these issues keep coming up and are re-litigated. We are codifying what the courts have determined to be protected speech.”
Under the FORUM Act, no “state institution of higher education, or any of its administrators acting in their official capacity, shall prohibit any individual from engaging in noncommercial expressive activity on campus, so long as the individual’s conduct is lawful and does not materially and substantially disrupt the functioning of the institution.”
J.D. Rucker, writing for the NOQ Report, suggested that “universities have been turned into leftist indoctrination factories.”
“The predominance of left-leaning faculty at most colleges has not only assisted in this systematic indoctrination, but has also emboldened students to utilize intimidation techniques against any high-profile conservative speakers,” he added, saying “HB 758 reveals some interesting measures that other states should consider.”
“We recognize that through dialogue we have our greatest opportunity to open minds and change hearts,” he concluded. “Conservatives, by our nature, will not suppress ideas as progressives often do on campuses. We need bills like these to give us a chance of breaking through the indoctrination.”
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Anthony Accardi is a writer and reporter for The Ohio Star.