Wisconsin Assembly passes free-speech-on-campus bill

Where does one person’s right to free speech end and another’s begin?

The Wisconsin Assembly has drawn the line, passing legislation late Wednesday cracking down on University of Wisconsin System students who protest at speeches from people with whom they disagree.

Assembly Bill 299, which was sent to the Senate on a 61-to-36 vote, seeks to protect conservative voices on campus by requiring the system to develop policies protecting controversial speech, according to the bill’s text:

The policy must contain statements regarding the following:

1) that the primary function of an institution is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge;

2) that it is not the proper role of an institution to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution;

3) that students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem as permitted by the First Amendment and within specified limits;

4) that any person lawfully present on campus may protest or demonstrate, but that protests and demonstrations that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction;

5) that campuses are open to invited speakers; 6) that public areas are public forums and open on the same terms to any speaker; and 7) that institutions must remain neutral on public policy controversies.

Critics say the legislation will actually hinder speech because it calls for the expulsion of students who violate the policy.

“Our colleges and universities should be a place to vigorously debate ideas and ultimately learn from one another. Instead, this campus gag rule creates an atmosphere of fear where free expression and dissent are discouraged,” Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“We have to lay down some groundwork here and we have to create a behavioral shift so everyone can be heard and has the right to express their views,” the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Jesse Kremer, said.

The bill was filed after a speech by an editor of the conservative Breitbart was interrupted by protesters in November.