The Ohio Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that strengthens free speech protections on college and university campuses in the Buckeye State.
The Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act (Senate Bill 40), would prohibit administrators at state institutions of higher education from acting or enforcing “any policy that limits or restricts the constitutional right of a member of the campus community to engage in noncommercial free speech.”
The bill introduced by State Sens. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and Andrew Brenner (R-Napoleon) seeks to eliminate “free speech zones” on college campuses; prohibit using the “Heckler’s veto” to shut down events, protect peaceful assembly; require schools to have a free speech policy; and report free speech violations to the state legislature.
“Every student should be allowed to publicly express themselves and their point of views on a college campus,” Brenner said in an Ohio General Assembly hearing on Tuesday. “Whether you are a conservative, Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, socialist, or even a communist, you have a First Amendment right to free speech.”
Furthermore, McColley said Ohio needs to be able to trust that its colleges will provide students with an open arena in thought, discussion and First Amendment rights.
“There has been a rising trend across the country where we are seeing universities set a tone that works against conservative groups or speakers, not allowing them to express themselves freely,” McColley said when the bill was introduced last year. “This is a troubling trend that we need to take a hard look at to ensure the intellectual integrity of our institutions of higher education is maintained.”
Citizens for Community Values, an organization that advocates for Gospel-reflected public policy, applauded the Senate’s decision to pass SB 40.
“By passing SB 40, the Ohio Senate is sending the clear message that every student’s voice matters,” President of Citizens for Community Values Aaron Baer said. “In recent years, we’ve witnessed university officials in Ohio and across America stifle the speech of pro-life and conservative groups. SB 40 will protect these students by creating a level playing field for ideas. It doesn’t favor any viewpoint or ideology, but ensures all speech is equally protected.”
Last year, Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, which represents over 4,500 college professors in Ohio, wrote a letter to the state Senate Education Committee opposing this bill.
“Higher education faces many problems, but free speech is not one of them. The First Amendment already protects free speech, and anyone in the campus community can challenge infringements to that, if it is justified. Very simply, SB 40 is a solution in search of a problem and isn’t necessary at our colleges and universities,” the letter says.
SB 40 now moves to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
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Zachery Schmidt is the digital editor of Star News Digital Media. If you have any tips, email Zachery at [email protected]