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“Free speech bill” really about stifling free speech

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The plaque has stood proudly on the University of Wisconsin’s Bascom Hall since 1915. It recognizes that students should be free to determine what they themselves believe. It reads, “Whatever may be limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.” In other words, feel free to believe what you feel is the truth, and don’t be afraid to speak that to others. Perhaps that plaque is no longer relevant, given that some Wisconsin lawmakers want to limit the free speech rights of students on their campus. Lawmakers are re-introducing a bill that would punish students who interfere with campus speeches and presentations, threatening them with suspension and even expulsion. Ironically, they call it a free speech bill, even though it is clearly designed to crack down on a student’s right to free speech. Students on UW campuses and elsewhere should be encouraged to protest, to stand up for what they believe in. It helps shape who they become. We should not limit or censor the quest for knowledge. Our politicians should not be telling our students how to express themselves or speaking out on social justice issues, or other issues important to them. If this is to become law, they may as well tear down that historic plaque, because it would no longer apply on UW campuses.

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