Kentucky: Senate Bill 237 (2018)
Lawmakers in Kentucky are considering a bill aimed at promoting Free Speech on the campuses of public colleges and universities. The bill was approved by the state’s Senate and is now under consideration by the Committee on Education in Kentucky’s House of Representatives.
Senator Will Schroder, a Republican, is the lead sponsor of SB 237. He told WKMS that this legislation is partially inspired by a conversation he had with a student at Northern Kentucky University. The student reportedly told Schroder that pro-life speech was being suppressed on campus, citing an incident in which crosses and a sign associated with a pro-life demonstration were destroyed. While answering his colleagues’ questions about SB 237, Schroder acknowledged that name-calling and hate speech would be protected under the bill, reported WKMS.
This bill would prohibit the use of Free Speech zones on campus and declare all “generally accessible, open, outdoor areas of the campus” to be traditional public forums. Moreover, the bill would bar public colleges and universities from disinviting speakers on the grounds that their “anticipated speech may be considered offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, or radical….”
Critics of SB 237 have argued that the bill would weaken a school administration’s ability to police campus activity. Senator Ray Jones, a Democrat, opposed the bill. “You know free speech is important, but there is a public safety concern,” he told WKMS.
Senator Reggie Thomas, also a Democrat, raised concerns about the bill’s prohibition on disinviting divisive speakers. “If you read that language literally, that invites hate speech to come on campuses and be spewed and spoken,” he said, according to WMKY. Specifically, Thomas cited a 2014 incident involving former U.S. Senate candidate Robert Ransdell, a neo-Nazi, at the University of Kentucky. Ransdell was “removed from the stage after uttering racially-inflammatory remarks,” reported WMKY. Thomas raised the concern that such action by university administrations would not be permitted if SB 237 became law. Schroder responded to this concern by noting that administrators have “protections . . . if they anticipate something extreme that is going to place the listening audience in danger,” reported WMKY.
A spokesman from the University of Kentucky said that this bill would not impact its existing practices related to Free Speech, according to WMKY.
After approval by the Senate, bill awaits consideration by House of Representatives
On March 13, 2018, SB 237 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 27-11. Nine Democrats and two Republicans voted against the bill, while 25 Republicans and two Democrats approved it. The bill will now be considered by the House Standing Committee on Education.
Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18
Uploaded April 2, 2018