Wisconsin Bill Would Punish Students Who Interfere with Free Speech

Published on April 28, 2017  |  By 2ANews.us 
In Freedom of Speech, Laws & Legal Challenges, Politics

Berkeley students clash with police at a free speech rally organized by Trump supporters on April 15, 2017. (Image: Josh Edelson / Getty)

Wisconsin lawmakers introduced a bill on Wednesday to punish students who interfere with free speech at state-funded universities.

The Campus Free Speech Act

The bill, called the “Campus Free Speech Act”, is modeled on a proposal by the Arizona-based Goldwater Institute, and was introduced by Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kwaskum) late Wednesday evening. The proposed legislation references the University of Chicago’s 2015 “Committee on Freedom of Expression” and Yale’s 1974 “Committee on Free Expression” findings and is designed to ensure that freedom of expression is protected at Wisconsin’s public universities and two year colleges.

The bill is being introduced as freedom of speech is being attacked on liberal college campuses throughout the country. In November, Madison college students disrupted a speech by conservative columnist Ben Shapiro. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s speech at California’s Berkeley campus was cancelled by that university after students threatened violence.

Similar legislation has already been enacted in Colorado, and Virginia, Michigan, and North Carolina are currently considering their own free speech legislation to quell liberal abuses on college campuses in their states.

“Free speech means free speech for everyone and not just for the person who speaks the loudest.” – Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, one of the bill’s sponsors, noted the reason for the bill in a news release on Thursday. “All across the nation and here at home, we’ve seen protesters trying to silence different viewpoints.” Referring to the recent disruptions on campuses across the state, Vos added, “Free speech means free speech for everyone and not just for the person who speaks the loudest.”


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The bill is supported by Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville), Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls).

Liberal objections

Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group “One Wisconsin Now”, was predictably critical of the proposed legislation. Said Ross, “These Republicans want to make our campuses safe spaces for Republicans to be free of criticism and subject students to legal sanctions if they speak out.”

Violence and abusive behavior is not free speech

Contrary to Ross’ statement, however, the proposed legislation does not censure “criticism” or “speak[ing] out”. Such expressions are a fundamental right of every American and are protected by the First Amendment. However, silencing another through disruptive or abusive behavior, the de-facto liberal response to opposing conservative viewpoints, is not protected behavior.

Under the proposed legislation, “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct” that interferes with another’s freedom of speech would be prohibited.

Rep. Jesse Kremer, the bill’s lead author, noted that free expression at liberal universities has been under attack for decades. Kremer said in a statement released Thursday, “In recent decades, attacks on free expression have become commonplace and in-vogue at institutions where ideals and truths should be challenged – the American university.”

Campuses to remain neutral on public issues and encourage free speech on campus property

The legislation requires university regents to adopt policies requiring campus neutrality on public issues. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos explained the point further, noting that while Chancellors and faculty members are still free to express their personal viewpoints, the university itself must remain neutral on public issues in order to encourage free speech on campus property.


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Under the proposed legislation, state-funded campuses must be open to any invited speaker and they must not tolerate coercion of students or faculty. Civil protests that do not interfere with free speech would still be permitted.

Penalties include suspension or expulsion

The policy requires universities to impose disciplinary actions against students and faculty who engage in activities that interfere with another’s free speech rights.

Students would be entitled to a disciplinary hearing and an appeal process. However, students who are determined to have infringed on another’s free speech more than once would be subjected to suspension or expulsion. In addition, the legislation would permits a lawsuit to be filed by the victim within a year of the alleged free speech violation.

The Board of Regents must also form a council to report to the legislature, the public and the governor.

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