Republican lawmakers in Madison are pushing the University of Wisconsin to allow more voices on campuses across the state.

State Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and state Rep. Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago, last week introduced what they are calling the Campus Free Speech Act.

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

Kapenga points to the number of speakers who’ve been shouted down, drown-out or canceled on college campus over the past few years. 

“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,” Horlacher said. 

Their proposal would require the University of Wisconsin System to develop a policy that would guarantee protection for all student speech. Kapenga said he also wants the policy to state “that any person lawfully on campus may protest or demonstrate, but actions that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction.”

But Democrats aren’t liking what they are seeing from the plan. 

State Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said the Free Speech Act creates a three-strike policy that could end with students being kicked off campus. 

“I’m extremely concerned about Republican legislation that would supersede or nullify the Board of Regents’ already problematic campus speech policy and replace it with an even more chilling policy,” Shankland said. 

“Under this bill, individuals could bring action and sue for damages if they are protested or potentially interrupted,” Shankland explained. “Anyone could report another person for violating this new policy, and an individual could be suspended or expelled after just a few allegations, an investigation and a hearing.”

Kapenga said the entire idea is to make sure that the University of Wisconsin gets back to teaching and talking about ideas, rather than telling students how they should think. 

“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,” Kapenga said. 

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.

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