State senators in Ohio voted unanimously on Tuesday Jan. 28, 2020 to approve legislation entitled the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act. The text of the bill contains significant overlap in the language that appears in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation, which is also entitled the FORUM Act.

While ALEC claims that the model legislation protects “free speech” on college campuses, the FORUM Act could be used to shield right-wing extremists and protect hate speech. According to UnKoch My Campus, an organization that tracks Koch funding to universities, campus free speech laws would “skew the meaning of free speech in a way that sacrifices the protected speech of individuals in order to amplify the ‘speech’ of the Koch-network’s political extremists.”

“These punitive measures would create several chilling effects, among students and faculty, but also for administrators who would be pressured to 1) allow increasingly extremist, non-academic speakers on campus, and 2) crack down on counter-demonstrators,” UnKoch My Campus stated in an analysis of the laws.

The sponsors of the bill, SB 40, Ohio State Senators Andrew O. Brenner and Rob McColley were listed as legislative members of ALEC, according to the 2017 registration list obtained by Documented. McColley’s name also appeared in the registration lists from ALEC’s the 2019 States and Nation Policy Summit and the 2019 Annual Meeting.

Since ALEC’s adoption of the FORUM Act in 2017, numerous bills entitled the “FORUM Act” have been introduced in state legislatures across the country. According to a 2019 ALEC newsletter, seven measures were set to be introduced in different states.

Proponents of the bill include two organizations with ties to the Koch network, including the Ohio Chapter of Americans for Prosperity and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has called an anti-LGBT hate group, also submitted testimony in favor the bill.

Anti-LGBT Group Collaborated with ALEC on the FORUM Act

According to an email obtained by Documented, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) offered to work with a legislator in Missouri on a version of this legislation. “We collaborated with ALEC on a model bill (linked below) but we can also help sharpen it up and specifically tailor it to MO,” Zack Pruitt, Legal Counsel at ADF, told a state legislator in Missouri. The email was obtained in response to an open records request made by Documented.

The Center for Media and Democracy first reported that ADF “vetted” the FORUM Act, according to an online toolkit, suggesting ADF helped craft the legislation. The new email correspondence obtained by Documented provides further evidence of ADF’s role in the model legislation and their involvement in assisting at least one state legislator with drafting the FORUM act to tailor to a specific state.

Documented previously reported the announcement of a new partnership between ALEC and ADF to “provide state legislators with research and resources to empower legislation that protects free speech.”

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