Wisconsin Republicans Push Bill To Punish Students Or Faculty Who Block Free Speech On Campus After Protesters Invade Shapiro Event

As a result of the raucous protest last November when Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro spoke at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin GOP legislators, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, are sponsoring a bill, the Campus Free Speech Act, to discipline and possibly expel students who disrupt speeches on the UW campus, and mandate that UW stay neutral on political controversies.

Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum), the bill’s lead author, joined Vos and the chairpersons of the Legislature’s higher education committees, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), and Rep. David Murphy (R-Greenville), to sponsor the bill, which would include disciplinary sanctions for students and faculty who engage in "violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, obscene, unreasonably loud, or other disorderly conduct" that interferes with someone's free speech.

Kremer asserted, “We are making a pretty clear statement here that free expression should not be inhibited and will not be inhibited.” Vos added, "All across the nation and here at home, we've seen protesters trying to silence different viewpoints. Free speech means free speech for everyone and not just for the person who speaks the loudest."

The Campus Free Speech Act is similar to model legislation drafted by the Goldwater Institute. The Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis says the act would require the UW Board of Regents to create a free expression policy stating that universities’ “primary function ... is the discovery, improvement, transmission and dissemination of knowledge,” and that it is not the role of an institution “to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment.”

Colorado already has a similar bill; other states considering similar bills include Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia.

But UW-Madison school spokesman John Lucas protested that the Board of Regents approved a policy in 2015 supporting free expression. He argued that requiring the mandatory suspension outlined in the bill would mean campus disciplinary committees could not impose appropriate punishments. He added, “We urge the Legislature to work with the Board of Regents to identify policies that will address the free exchange of ideas and need for order, while respecting the existing student conduct process that has served institutions well for many years.”

Scot Ross, executive director of the leftist group One Wisconsin Now, called the bill’s authors "fragile snowflakes” as he whined, "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.”

Predictably, Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Wisconsin chapter, stated that suspending or expelling hecklers would be "unnecessarily draconian."

In November, Shapiro was told by police that they were told not to stop the demonstrators, who had already stated their intentions to disrupt the speech. Kremer said the students should have faced discipline from UW-Madison, asserting, “They’re inhibiting free speech.”

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