Safeguarding rights of all

Freedom of speech, guaranteed to Americans, is one thing. Using it as an excuse to trample other rights — or even, as is seen with upsetting frequency, to strangle the free speech rights of those with whom one disagrees — is quite another.

Ohio University officials deserve praise for attempting to allow robust exchange of ideas on their campuses, while at the same time respecting other rights.

Unfortunately, university leaders may have gone too far in a new policy on freedom of expression.

Announced earlier this month, OU’s draft policy places few limits on expression ranging from speech to demonstrations outside university buildings but on campus. Safety is one of those considerations.

But a blanket ban on many activities inside university buildings is contemplated. According to OU, “demonstrators, rallies, public speech-making, sit-ins, marches, protests and similar assemblies are not permitted in the interior spaces of university buildings.”

That probably is too broad a ban to pass any reasonable First Amendment test.

Some “rallies, speech-making,” etc. are perfectly acceptable. Others are not.

OU officials are accepting public comments on their proposal until Oct. 20. Almost beyond any doubt, they will have to amend the initial plan.

Four walls and a roof should not be a barrier to freedom of expression, of course. But when those claiming to exercise First Amendment rights infringe on the rights of others, OU should say no.

When protesters deny the right of those with whom they disagree to gather and listen to speakers, they are in the wrong. When they obstruct hallways, shut down offices and classrooms and otherwise limit the rights of others to go where they please, they are in the wrong.

Surely Ohio University can come up with a policy providing as much freedom of expression as is consistent with everyone’s rights.


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