Free Speech for State Universities in Ohio

Elizabeth Gillespie, Staff Reporter

Freedom of speech is now protected at Ohio institutions of higher education. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 40 to address the banning of controversial speakers and the establishment of “free speech zones.” The bill became effective on September 30 after being passed by the 134th General Assembly.

Under this legislation, Ohio state colleges are prohibited from turning away speakers on the basis of controversial content. An excessive security fee cannot be charged to discourage controversial speakers from speaking. In addition, they cannot designate a particular space for free speech. Instead, free speech is protected throughout campus.

Free speech, as prescribed in the bill, is more than the oral word. As long as it is not commercialized, all expressions of free speech are protected. Although it generally protects college students, the bill also protects faculty, administration, visitors and others who are associated with campus.

The exceptions to this rule include speech that incites violence, includes defamation, is obscene, or causes a significant disruption. State institutions are permitted to have time, place and manner restrictions on events as long as the rules are unbiased and the school provides ample alternatives.

Republican Senators Andrew Brenner of Delaware County and Rob McColley of Henry County sponsored the bill. Brenner has stated that the cancelation of a 2017 speech at the University of California, Berkeley by far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos on the grounds of security influenced the passing of the bill.

Republican Rep. Niraj Antani of Dayton stated, “College campuses should be places where free speech is encouraged and not limited.”

Democrats such as Rep. Catherine Ingram of Cincinnati said that Senate Bill 40 is “shiny. It looks good. It sounds good,” but that it was passed to promote right-wing speech at universities. Similar legislation was originally provided by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and Goldwater Institute.

General Counsel Mike Phillips, lawyer for the administration at Shawnee State University and representative of the Board of Trustees, spoke about Senate Bill 40 at the Student Government Association meeting on September 14. He stated that there has been a significant push in state legislation for free speech in relation to college campuses. Phillips explained that Shawnee State University falls under the state institution category and must abide by this bill. He strongly encouraged students at Shawnee State University to report any instances that violate this policy.