Columbus, OH – The ACLU of Ohio issued a statement today commemorating the 54th anniversary of the tragic events that occurred at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, in the context of the current wave of campus protests happening across Ohio and the country.

ACLU of Ohio Executive Director J. Bennett Guess stated the following:  

“Fifty-four years ago, almost thirty National Guardsman fired into a crowd of Kent State students who were protesting the Vietnam War, ultimately killing four students and wounding another nine in just thirteen seconds. College students have always had a vital role in protests, and our organization has a long-standing relationship with campus demonstrations, as the ACLU Of Ohio represented the families of those who were tragically killed on that infamous day. 

History has repeatedly shown that armed police should be involved only as a last resort. To do otherwise risks escalating, not calming, tensions on campuses. Now again, as students demonstrate on campuses in Ohio, we remind school administrators that freedom of expression is a cornerstone of education in democracy. Institutions of higher learning – whether public or private – ought to be strong defenders of the First Amendment. At the same time, accounts of rising antisemitic and Islamophobic sentiment are deeply disturbing. All students deserve to be safe and to learn free from discrimination based on religion, race, or ethnicity. Threats and violence remain illegal and must be rejected.” 

As outlined in an open letter to public and private universities, the ACLU insists on five basic guardrails to ensure that freedom of speech and academic freedom are protected on campus:  

  • School administrators must not single out viewpoints for censorship, discipline, or disproportionate punishment. 
  • They must protect students from targeted discriminatory harassment and violence, but may not penalize people for taking sides on the war in Gaza, even if expressed in deeply offensive terms.  
  • They can announce and enforce reasonable and content-neutral time, place, or manner limitations on protest activity, but they must leave ample room for students to express themselves. These rules must be applied consistently and without regard to viewpoint.  
  • They must recognize that armed police on campus can endanger students and are a measure of last resort.  
  • They must resist the pressures placed on them by politicians seeking to exploit campus tensions. 

The ACLU of Ohio urges students to review their schools’ policies about protests and to know their rights when interacting with police.