by J.D Davidson
The Ohio House of Representatives made voices on the state’s college campus a little louder this week, if Gov. Mike DeWine approves.
The House passed the “Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act,” which would prevent colleges and universities from limiting political speech on campuses or moving that speech into “free speech zones.”
Fourteen other states have passed similar legislation.
“At a time when division in our nation is at an all-time high, it is essential that our university campuses remain a place where open, honest and tough discussions can still happen,” said Aaron Baer, president of Citizens of Community Values, an Ohio family-values advocacy group. “The Forum Act creates a level playing field on college campuses for ideas, so pro-life, Christian and conservative students are not discriminated against because of their worldview.”
The bill, which passed the House largely along party lines in a 65-27 vote, unanimously passed the Ohio Senate last January. According to Senate sponsors Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, and Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, the bill would prohibit colleges or universities from taking any action or enforcing any policy that limits or restricts the right of a student of that campus community to engage in political speech.
“Students should not be afraid that their speech will be squashed by institutions of higher education by restricting students to ‘free speech zones’ or using chilling tactics on those invited by students to the campus,” Brenner said.
Specifically, the bill would protect peaceful, expressive activities, such as assembly, protests, speeches, petitions and guest speakers. It also bans “free speech zones,” and allows for civil action by individuals or student organizations against violations of the provisions.
House Democrats argued the bill is unnecessary, political and will enable hate speech on campuses.
“The First Amendment already protects freedom of speech on Ohio’s campuses,” State Rep. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, said. “This bill is purely political and could have a detrimental effect on Ohio’s college campuses. It could make our campuses less safe by blocking a university’s ability to regulate speech and that could potentially incite violence.”
The Senate agreed Thursday to the conference report, and the bill now goes to Gov. DeWine.
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An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. Davidson is a regional editor for The Center Square.