Donald Trump may have won in the presidency in part because of a backlash against the perception of tyrannical political correctness from the left, but progressives are not the only political group seeking to legislate the terms of civilized debate.
Case in point, a new bill introduced by two Arizona Republican state legislators—Rep. Bob Thorpe and Rep. Mark Finchem—which would ban courses or events promoting "social justice" or anything focused on the interests of any political or identity group.
Thorpe told Tuscon.com his primary targets with this bill are a University of Arizona "privilege walk" and a Arizona State University class on "Whiteness and Race Theory":
"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 who's living today has little or no association with what happened 200 years ago," he 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, the bill's co-sponsor, tells AZCentral.com, "Pure and simple, this is an anti-discrimination bill" against what he called a "very perverse agenda." Finchem says he believes social justice advocates want to "slice up and dice up all of these people into groups and cater a particular message to each one of them, and all that does is advocate hate."
If passed, HB-2120 would affect public primary and high schools, community colleges, and state colleges. The ban would also extend far beyond just curriculum, it also applies to "events and activities" on campus. Schools found in violation would be subject to losing up to 10 percent in state aid. Arizona passed a law to ban a specific Mexican-American studies high school class in 2010, which is now being challenged with a lawsuit filed by students.
Section 1 of this is exceptionally broadly-written bill (which even Thorpe has conceded needs to be revised) reads as follows:
A. 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:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote DIVISION, resentment OR SOCIAL JUSTICE toward a race, GENDER, RELIGION, POLITICAL AFFILIATION, SOCIAL CLASS or OTHER class of people.
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity OR ISOLATION BASED ON ETHNICITY, RACE, RELIGION, GENDER OR SOCIAL CLASS instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
5. VIOLATE STATE OR FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS.
6. NEGATIVELY TARGET SPECIFIC NATIONALITIES OR COUNTRIES.
The clause banning classes or events promoting "the overthrow of the United States government" would probably not be of great benefit to the free speech rights of Second Amendment die-hards who frequently argue that the right to bear arms was always meant as a bulwark against a tyrannical government.
If the Arizona Republicans pushing this bill think they can defeat the arguments of their arch-nemesis social justice warriors by fiat, on what principled high ground can they claim to stand when other schools shut down conservative arguments about abortion, guns, or immigration?
As I recently wrote at Vox, allowing authorities to legislate what is and what isn't acceptable speech on campus—especially public campuses which are required to respect the First Amendment—is a terrible idea and inevitably comes back to harm whichever party the speech restrictions were designed to protect. The authors of HB-2120 might think they're taking a stand against P.C. culture run amok, but all they're really doing is legitimizing the concept of hiding from challenging ideas rather than confronting them.