Ohio group joins fight for student free speech


An Ohio policy group joined the argument for free speech on college campuses shortly after a new survey showed tensions over the issue continue to rise.

The Buckeye Institute, based in Columbus, filed an amicus brief Tuesday in a U.S. Supreme Court case, asking the court to find Virginia Tech’s use of a “bias response team” violates students’ First Amendment rights.

“Bias response teams have become ubiquitous on college campuses across the country” said Jay R. Carson, senior litigator at The Buckeye Institute. “While ostensibly they exist to promote civility and inclusion, they are in fact a tool to silence debate and enforce conformity of thought. These policies are directly at odds with free inquiry and debate that is supposed to take place at our institutions of higher learning, and more importantly, as three other appellate circuits have held, they are at odds with the First Amendment.”

Speech First, a national free speech organization, brought the case. It challenged Virginia Tech’s bias response team’s procedures, saying they limit free speech.

According to The Buckeye Institute, three federal circuit courts found bias response teams, typically the dean of students, campus police and other officials, violated students’ rights.

As previously reported by The Center Square, free speech issues are becoming more prevalent across the country, including in Ohio.

Ohio Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirkland, pushed the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act, which he said is designed to ensure freedom of speech, diversity of thought and opinion, and academic integrity at Ohio's state institutions of higher education.

The bill would ban mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion courses and training for students and staff unless required for certification or grants. Senate Bill 83 passed the Senate but was pushed to committee in the House.

"No student should ever be ostracized, canceled, or have to worry about a failing grade for merely daring to have a difference of opinion with classmates or a professor," Cirino said of the bill. "It is essential for students to learn how to think rather than what to think, and how to listen to opposing views with a respectful but critical ear."