On Tuesday, Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro testified before the House Higher Education Committee at the Ohio Statehouse in favor of a bill protecting free speech on public college and university campuses, known as HB 758, the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act.
In response to the common resistance conservative speakers are met with on college campuses, the bill would work to ensure free speech for varying political ideologies, including, yes, conservative voices. The FORUM Act would ban limiting so-called “free speech zones” on campus and address often unfairly and strategically doled out obstacles for conservative speakers.
Asked about potential limits to so-called “hate speech” on campus before the House Higher Education Committee, Shapiro noted that “the best answer to bad speech is more speech.”
“The dangers of the government picking and choosing which messages ought to be allowed space and which messages ought not to be allowed space is more of a problem than evil people espousing evil views on state property,” he explained.
“I think we can all agree that there is such a thing as hateful speech and that we all have a duty as moral human beings to fight that hateful speech. But I think, also, that once you put somebody at the top of that chain of power deciding what speech they like and what speech they don’t, I’m more unconformable with somebody at the top holding the sword of Damocles deciding which speech is good and which speech is bad than I am with bad people speaking and other people protesting them — or ignoring them, which, by the way, is indeed the best solution.”
“If you really dislike the KKK on your campus, the best thing to do is to basically pretend they are not there,” Shapiro said, “because seven losers who live in their mom’s basement and play Fortnite at weird hours show up wearing sheets and then everybody laughs at them.”
No stranger to hostile campuses himself, Shapiro hopes the bill will be a model for other states.
“It was an honor to testify in favor of the FORUM Act in Ohio. Every state should consider enshrining prophylactic rules that help protect the First Amendment before free speech flashpoints take place,” said the conservative author following his testimony.
As noted by the nonprofit organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the FORUM Act “ensures that a college or university that receives state funding may not ban students from engaging in expressive activity on campus, so long as the student’s conduct is lawful and does not disrupt the functioning of the college or university.”
“The act also clarifies that any ‘reasonable time, place, and manner’ restrictions to speech or expression must be published and be enforced in a viewpoint-neutral manner, and not directed toward a specific student or group,” adds the pro-liberty organization.
On numerous occasions, Shapiro has been met with hostile school faculty and students looking to shut down his speech through, essentially, a heckler’s veto. Most notably, when Shapiro went to speak at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), in 2016, a near-riot broke out from protesters; students attempting to hear the lecture had to be sneaked in through a back door.
ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer also testified in support of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), Foundation for Individual Rights in Education legislative counsel’s Tyler Coward, Citizens for Community Values President Aaron Baer, and President of Young Americans for Freedom at the Ohio State University, Elle Lamb.
“The free and open exchange of ideas is essential to democracy, and perhaps no place is it more important than on public university campuses,” said Mr. Langhofer. “Public colleges and universities are meant to be marketplaces of ideas — where our future teachers, lawyers, judges, community leaders, and voters can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms. Unfortunately, public universities are some of the most ideologically intolerant places in the entire country.”
“This bill will help ensure that public universities again become places where intellectual diversity flourishes and all students are able to engage in the exchange of ideas rather than censorship on campus. We commend Ohio lawmakers for considering legislation that protects students’ First Amendment freedoms,” Langhofer added.
Students for Life President at Miami University of Ohio, Ellie Wittman, also testified in favor of the FORUM Act. Wittman fought back when university administration required a “trigger warning” on the chapter’s pro-life display known as the “Cemetery of the Innocents,” which features small crosses to commemorate the lives lost to abortion.