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Op-Ed: Arizona Republicans Take On First Amendment In Bid To Battle PC Culture On Campus

January 23, 2017

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A pair of Arizona Republicans want to; “ban courses or events promoting ‘social justice’ or anything focused on the interests of any political or identity group” at public schools in the state.

As explained HB-2120 would affect public schools, community colleges, and state colleges in Arizona.

The legislation was co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Thorpe and Rep. Mark Finchem.

“If you then look at an individual whose ancestors, because of their race, for example, they are linked to people that did something 100 or 200 years ago, that person whose living today has little or no association with what happened 200 years ago,” Thorpe said. “So let’s not have a wedge issue and cause that person to be vilified when they absolutely had nothing to do with some event that happened in the past.”

Finchem added that this is meant to be an “anti-discrimination bill.”

On that note, I understand what Thorpe and Finchem are driving at with this legislation. It’s a predictable knee jerk reaction to the wave of excessive political correctness that has caused the phrase “check your privilege” to ring through the halls of college campuses over the past few years.

While I find campus PC culture, micro-aggressions, and pretty much the entire progressive movement to be ridiculous, I can’t go much further in agreeing with Thorpe and Finchem.

First of all the language in the bill is incredibly vague, and includes verbiage like this:

A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses, or classes, EVENTS OR ACTIVITIES that include DO any of the following:

  • Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  • Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity OR ISOLATION BASED ON ETHNICITY, RACE, RELIGION, GENDER OR SOCIAL CLASS instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

By the logic of this bill, Japanese students might be well within their rights to demand that history professors stop teaching about Pearl Harbor. Could Vietnamese students invoke HB -2120 to prevent teachers from discussing POW camps? With language that broad it certainly isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Is it broad enough to be used to silence professors who support the Second Amendment or a pro-life political agenda? I’d say it is.

But beyond the bill’s vagaries lies a much bigger problem – it’s a massive violation of the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Any law that dictated what a professor could and couldn’t say in a classroom would represent a massive attack on free speech. Even worse – the bill would also apply to events and activities. Broadly interpreted that could apply to protests, open-house and fair type events, and invited speakers. In that vein the bill would also violate the right of students to assemble peacefully.

While conservatives may not like it when liberal professors and college students spread ideas that fly in the face of their own core values, they should not be taking legislative steps to restrict that speech.

Social norms tend to ebb and flow, and while the values being promoted on some campuses right now may not align with those held by conservatives it still doesn’t justify violating the First Amendment. There are of course conservative schools out there, and this kind of legislation could very well be used to restrict speech on those campuses as well. That’s why we have a First Amendment – to protect speech that everyone else doesn’t like.

By protecting speech that we don’t like, we avoid punishing people for “thought crimes” and instead create a marketplace of ideas. In that marketplace of ideas, people are free to listen to a wide range of influences and choose the one that makes the most sense.

Living in the land of the free means respecting freedom of speech for everyone — even those with whom we most vehemently disagree.  Lawmakers who can’t grasp that concept may be better suited for the private sector – perhaps on Twitter’s censorship board…errr ‘Trust and Safety Council’ — or public service in the government of North Korea.

This contributor is a Marine veteran that has served in the Middle East. Due to the sensitive nature of his current job, he has requested to remain anonymous.