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Republican Lawmakers Introduce Campus Free Speech Bill in Wisconsin

Two Republican lawmakers are introducing a bill that would ensure freedom of speech and expression on the University of Wisconsin campuses.

Sponsored by Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Representative Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago), the Campus Free Speech Act would direct UW Board of Regents to punish people who interfere with the free expression of others at all its four-year and two-year institutions.

It also authorizes students and faculty to discuss anything under the speech protected by the First Amendment.

“Free speech is a foundational part of our constitution. Unfortunately, across the country and here in Wisconsin, we have seen examples of free speech being suppressed on our university campuses,” said Senator Kapenga.

“Freedom of speech leads to freedom of thought, but all too often universities are teaching students what to think instead of how to think. This bill affirms the ability to engage in the free exchange of ideas without the fear of intimidation or disruption.”

The bill further allows persons who are lawfully present on campus to protest the speech but such actions shouldn’t infringe upon the expressive rights of others. It further asks institutions to remain neutral on public policy controversies and keep its campuses open to invited speakers.

“We must ensure that open expression is available to all students and that certain ideas are not stifled on our university campuses. It is vital that we codify these protections in our state statutes,” said Representative Horlacher.

Earlier, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) mentioned University of Wisconsin System among the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” for retaliating against UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow after he invited former adult film star and sex educator Nina Hartley to deliver a lecture on campus as part of the school’s Free Speech Week programming. Gow later came under fire from the University of Wisconsin System president, Ray Cross, who started an audit of Gow’s discretionary fund.

In March, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to enforce free speech on college campuses across the country. The order allows 12 federal agencies to withhold federal research or education grants, excluding federal student aid funding, from colleges that practice censorship.

Critics of the order, who classified it as a “political agenda” and castigated Trump for setting a dangerous precedent of taking “punitive action” against colleges, were worried that the move could “discredit” the higher education system and undermine public trust.

Since the order was signed, colleges and universities have been under increased pressure to not censure free speech.

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