Ohio lawmakers to weigh in on freedom of speech on state campuses

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — With the Ohio State University being sued for refusing to allow white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak at an event on campus, there could not be a more appropriate time for lawmakers to weigh in on freedom of speech on state campuses.

A bill addressing that issue had its first hearing in a House committee this week.

State Representatives Andrew Brenner and Wes Goodman gave sponsor testimony on House Bill 363 in front of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee Wednesday afternoon. The pair fielded questions for several committee members about the bill, including the committee chairman Representative Mike Duffey, and Representatives Kent Smith and Catherine Ingram.

Smith says the First Amendment is a great topic.

“It is the core of our democracy; it’s one of the things that’s made America last as a nation beyond 240 years,” said Smith.

However, discussions involving the First Amendment are not always easy to have.

When Brenner and Goodman first announced this bill, the rioting in Charlottesville was still fresh in many people’s minds. Now as the bill begins the legislative process, white nationalist groups are pushing to bring their message to the OSU campus.

The first amendment is available to all; including people with controversial views. In 1999, the Klu Klux Klan assembled in Cleveland on the day of the Browns football season opener to hold a rally.  The city took steps to ensure everything remained peaceful.

Smith was in Cleveland that day.

“That plan worked; the Klan had their rally, public safety was maintained but the cost to do that was astronomical,” said Smith.

The cost is one of the reasons Smith is concerned about the Campus Free Speech Act. He wants to make sure that the Universities have the funding to bring in security if they are not going to be allowed to refuse to allow controversial speakers that could bring elements to campus with a potential for violence.

“I think that giving universities the ability to pull the plug on something just makes sense,” said Smith.

While Smith does have his reservations about parts of the bill, he says it is worth discussing.

Duffey agrees and says the bill will get more hearings so that all sides can have an opportunity to testify.

Brenner, meanwhile, is pleased and encouraged by the news more hearings are ahead.

“We know our bill is not perfect. There’ll be some things that we’ll need to change to try and get some consensus within the committee, or at least everybody to say, ‘look this is a good bill and we agree and we’ll vote for it,’ and I think we can do that,” said Brenner.

No official dates have been set for further hearings yet.

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