EDITORIAL: Passing new laws to punish campus protesters is a very bad idea

Conservative or libertarian speakers have faced hostile — and sometimes violent — protests on college campuses in recent months. In response, some Republican state lawmakers now propose legislation intended to limit such disruptions.

In Wisconsin, for instance, GOP lawmakers advanced a measure that would mandate suspension or expulsion for students who engage in violence or disorderly conduct while infringing upon another’s freedom of expression.

This is a bad idea.

There’s no doubt that the progressive totalitarianism now dominating many college campuses is dangerously misguided and destructive.

But creating statutory restrictions intended to stifle leftist activism only exacerbates the problem. We already have laws outlawing physical assault or disorderly conduct. Criminalizing the “disruption of somebody’s else’s free expression” could in and of itself abridge the First Amendment and would open the door to all sorts of mischief.

Rather than advocating for self-defeating legislation, those who seek a more inviting campus atmosphere for controversial speakers should insist that college administrators exert control by vigorously promoting tolerance, civility and respect while making clear that demonstrators who break the law will face consequences.

Last August, the University of Chicago’s dean of students penned a letter to incoming freshmen. “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we … do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial,” he wrote, “and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

Such fortitude from those in charge will accomplish far more than any new law ever could.

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