COMMENTARY: Students Should Support Free Speech Legislation

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As the Wisconsin state legislature continues through the process of implementing a campus free speech bill, college students all over the state are voicing opposition to the concept.

In a staff editorial from the Daily Herald, the student newspaper for the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), the sentiment against “free speech” is overly pointed and jaded.

The Campus Free Speech Act is not about free speech, despite what legislators may say,” the editorial said.

Other student newspapers and social media activism from the UW system’s thousands of students has opened up a debate of whether or not a “free speech” bill favors all students, members of the campus community, and guests of the college.

For the student editorial staff of The Badger Herald, the sentiment that the bill will actually limit speech is ripe too.

“Fires, pepper spray, smashed windows, punches, assaults, riots, domestic terrorism — all results of recent protests across the nation in which freedom of expression has escalated to violence,” one Badger Herald feature suggested in its opening statement.

Here’s the deal, though. The only reason why student bodies are voicing concern over free speech bills like the Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act–passed over the summer–is that it contradicts the concept that protestors have every right intervene on controversial speakers.

In my work at the Colorado legislature, I witnessed my colleagues and the legislators that I served become inundated with the same rhetoric from left-wing civil liberties groups upon the passage of the state’s Campus Free Speech Act earlier this year. Despite the bipartisan support and the backing from the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the concern of “corporate” speech was the leading cause of unrest.

In states like Wisconsin, Ohio, even Colorado and Utah, the campus free speech bills that were passed and implemented derive from model legislation initiatives financed by economic libertarian-types like the Koch brothers. So, because of the “tainted” reputation of conservatives on campus and among individuals like the Koch brothers, the fear of repressing the dominant “liberal” speech exists.

Well, here is my message to the students of the University of Wisconsin system… The bill works.

With all of the state’s differing campus free speech measures being so similar, the elimination of free speech zones and the respect for “hate speech” are working in other areas of the country.

Wisconsin’s freedom of expression bill levels the playing field for all ideologies to comply with each other. It doesn’t eliminate protests or public demonstration, either. More or less, it installs protections for all individuals of the campus community, even the invited guests. The only sanction that would be levied is if groups–regardless of ideology–would barge into a controversial speaking engagement and willfully interrupted the rights of the speaker and the individuals wishing to listen.

Would you want liberal students interrupting your group’s private event, or, would you want conservative students interrupting your group’s private event? I don’t think so.

Maybe critics should research the nature of the legislation, then decide for themselves on whether to support such a proposal or not.

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