Ohio bill would punish speech disrupters

State Reps. Wesley Goodman and Andrew Brenner announce that they are introducing the Ohio Campus Free Speech Act. (Photo: Office of Rep. Andrew Brenner)

A Republican proposal in Ohio seeks to protect speakers’ appearances at Ohio colleges and calls on campuses to punish students who disrupt them.

State Reps. Wesley Goodman and Andrew Brenner this week announced the Campus Free Speech Act.

It would restrict creation of campus “free speech zones” and require colleges to establish sanctions for students who interfere with “the free expression of others.” Campuses could be sued if someone feels First

Amendment rights were restricted. The measure also prohibits universities from disinviting certain speakers because of protests.

“You only need to turn on the news to see the disregard with which free speech rights are treated on campuses around the country,” Brenner said at a press conference. “We have been fortunate to avoid the madness of UC Berkeley or the University of Missouri, but Ohio is not immune. A mentality is creeping into our culture that views disagreeable speech as inherently hateful, or even violent. We must act now to ensure our students understand and receive full protection for their speech rights.”

Similar bills are emerging around the country, as conservatives react to recent decisions by universities to cancel certain speakers for fear of violent protests. Opponents worry such bills are too far-reaching.

The bill soon will be officially introduced and then will be referred to a state House committee for further consideration.

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