UofL faculty members quietly protested a closed presidential search process at an Oct. 2017 trustees meeting. | Photo by Joe Sonka

Kentucky’s public universities could be required to adopt broad — or lax — free speech policies under a GOP-sponsored bill.

Senate Bill 117, filed Tuesday by a group of Republicans, would require any public postsecondary institution to adopt policies allowing students and faculty the “broadest possible latitude” in any form of speech of an issue.

In the policies, universities would have to assert that they are committed to “maintaining a marketplace of ideas where the free exchange of ideas is not suppressed because an idea put forth is considered by some or even most of the members of the institution’s community to be offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, or radical,” the proposed legislation reads.

Students and faculty would not be allowed to “substantially” interfere with ideas they disagree with to promote “lively and fearless freedom of debate,” SB 117 says.

A university could not interfere in student or faculty-sponsored speakers, either — the bill would bar institutes from disinviting speakers to campus based on their opinions. Additionally, universities would not be allowed to deny a student organization funding solely based on the group’s beliefs.

“Free speech zones,” existing areas of campus where students and faculty can promote viewpoints and causes, would be expanded to any generally open and outdoor area of campus, the bill reads.

Kentucky already protects students and faculty on the basis of speech under the Campus Free Speech Protection Act, on which SB 117 builds, and the Bill of Rights.

It is unclear how much the legislation if passed would impact current university policies. The University of Louisville does not punish students for “opinions that may be unpopular and/or contrary to the University’s values and objectives, but do not otherwise violate policy,” according to the student code of conduct.

A university spokesman said that because of university policy, UofL cannot disinvite speakers invited to campus by student groups.

The proposed legislation runs alongside national conservative views that typically call for universities to allow any form of speech, even if an idea is widely considered racist or otherwise offensive. Opponents argue allowing racist speech runs counter to many universities’ goal of providing an inclusive environment.

On its website, the ACLU says it defends campus free speech, “popular or unpopular.”

“Where racist, misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic speech is concerned, the ACLU believes that more speech — not less — is the answer most consistent with our constitutional values,” the site reads.

Sen. Albert Robinson (R – London), Robby Mills (R – Henderson), Stephen West (R – Paris), Mike Wilson (R – Bowling Green) and Wil Schroder (R – Wilder) are co-sponsoring the bill. Schroder is running for state attorney general against Daniel Cameron, a former attorney for Sen. Mitch McConnell.