Friday, February 26, 2010

Critics: "Anti-discrimination" bill “stifles free speech, advances ‘agenda’”

A bill in Congress that would prohibit discrimination in public schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity could stifle free speech and even lead to "homosexual indoctrination" in the nation's classrooms, critics say.

The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), or H.R. 4530, was introduced late last month by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, with 60 co-sponsors. Polis, the first openly gay man elected to the House as a nonincumbent, said the legislation will put lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on "equal footing" with their peers, much as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did for minorities and Title IX did for women. "Hatred has no place in the classroom," Polis, a Democrat, said in a statement on Jan. 27. "Every student has the right to an education free from harassment and violence. This bill will protect the freedoms of our students and enshrine the values of equality and opportunity in the classroom."

But some critics say the bill, if passed, could lead to murky definitions of harassment and provide a universal approach to the nation's public schools despite regional differences on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. "The real danger is how this will be interpreted," said Neal McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank. "The definition of harassment could be broadly interpreted that anybody who expressed a totally legitimate opinion about homosexual behavior could be made illegal. "That's a violation of those kids who want to express opposition to LGBT opinions or behavior. People have a legitimate reason to be concerned about this -- not because they're 'haters' but because you're now trying to balance different rights."

Other critics, meanwhile, say the bill will be used to push what they say is a homosexual agenda in public schools. "It seems pretty consistent with Kevin Jennings being appointed in the Obama administration," said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit public interest law firm, referring to the controversial founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network who now serves as the assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

Jennings came under fire in September after acknowledging he should have better handled an incident in 1988 when he was a teacher and failed to report that a boy he believed was 15 years old told him he was having sex with an older man. (Since that time, the former student, referred to as "Brewster," has revealed he was 16 years old, the age of consent in Massachusetts, at the time of the incident.)

"When [Jennings] founded GLSEN, his idea of a safe school was one that pushed a radical homosexual agenda by even encouraging first and second-graders to engage in homosexual activity," Staver said. "So I think that's the impetus behind this bill. We have an administration that wants to push a radical social agenda."

According to the bill, discrimination against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity represents a "distinct and especially severe problem" that has contributed to high dropout and absenteeism rates, adverse health consequences and academic underachievement. "When left unchecked, discrimination, including harassment, bullying, intimidation and violence, in schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity can lead, and has lead [sic] to, life-threatening violence and to suicide," the bill reads.

Federal civil rights statutes explicitly address discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, disability and national origin, but they do not include "sexual orientation" or gender identity. "As a result, students and parents have often had limited legal recourse to redress for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity," the bill continues.

H.R. 4530 is closely modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex. It contains the threat of loss of federal funding for non-compliant schools and says that no state may be immune under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution from suit in federal court for violating the Act.

If this is passed," McCluskey said, "it's going to almost certainly in some places be interpreted far too broadly, and free-speech rights will be trampled."

Numerous liberal-leaning groups -- including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and GLSEN -- quickly applauded the legislation when it was introduced. GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said discrimination based on sexual orientation is a "pervasive problem" that negatively affects student performance.

Eighty-six percent of gay, bisexual or transgender students experience harassment at school due to their sexual orientation, and one-third -- five times higher than a national sample of all students -- missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, according to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey. "Discrimination of any kind is wrong," Byard said in a statement. "Far too many schools do nothing to address the hostile environments that LGBT students face. We owe it to our children to do everything we can to make sure that discrimination is eliminated from our schools."

But critics say enacting federal law is not the solution. Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based government watchdog group, agreed that discrimination of any kind is a "bad thing," but he questioned whether federal law will resolve differences of opinion regarding LGBT rights. "Those kinds of conflicts are not resolvable by a federal mandate," he said. "The question is, is there a one-size-fits-all policy for every school in the country on this? It's more appropriate to settle it on the state and local level. Some states would be far more in favor of this than others."

Staver, of the Liberty Council, said the legislation is intolerant of any "opposing or traditional" views and called on Congress to be more focused on the country's economic woes, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism. "Those are serious matter that I think American people are concerned with," he said. He said he doesn't think the bill, which has bipartisan support, will pass, saying it's "completely contrary" to American values.

Asked if the Obama administration supports the measure, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said: "While we have not reviewed this specific legislation, the President believes that every child should learn in a safe and secure school environment."


A New Threat to Free Speech on Campus

This past fall, a student group known as “Temple University Purpose” (TUP) invited the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders to give a speech on campus. Wilders, one of the leading European critics of Islamism and a possible future prime minister in the Netherlands, was slated to show Fitna, his provocative documentary showing how Muslim jihadists draw their inspiration from the Koran not by distorting its message but by taking its mandates literally. When finalizing the arrangements for Wilders’ appearance, TUP’s student leaders and Temple administrators agreed that the university would cover the necessary security costs for the event, as it does for all speakers. But as campus leftists stepped up attacks on administrators for allowing Wilders’ appearance, the university began to look for the exit sign. It settled on a back handed way of throttling free speech that is increasingly being employed by other schools, USC and UC Santa Barbara among them—forcing conservative student groups to pay costs for controversial speakers whose appearances become security problems because the campus left threatens violently to disrupt them.

When word of Wilders’ scheduled appearance was made public, Temple’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) pressured the administration to cancel the event. Despite its pedigree as a descendant of the Muslim Brotherhood, Temple’s MSA has standing with school administrators as an ethnic grievance group. But it was the implied threat behind their aggrieved protests about the speech that got the university’s attention—to raise hell if Wilders was allowed to appear. Yet Temple was in a bind because it had already okayed the event. Wilders might be controversial, but he was a figure of international stature. However provocative his message, suddenly reversing course and subjecting it to heavy handed censorship would cast the university in a bad light.

Temple let the Dutch politician complete his presentation, though the question-and-answer session had to be cut short when a number of students shouted threats at him, forcing security men to escort him from the stage. But six weeks after the event, on December 3, TUP received an unexpected $800 invoice from Temple University – to cover the costs associated with having provided extra security personnel “to secure the room and building” for Wilders’ appearance. When TUP’s interim president Brittany Walsh reminded Temple administrators, in writing, that they had agreed to pay any extra security costs associated with Wilders’ appearance, she was stonewalled. Walsh and TUP turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the free speech rights of students.

FIRE vice president Robert Shibley was shocked by the way Temple had used the fees to cast a chill on campus free speech and also, in effect, to bankrupt TUP and make it unable to bring other conservative speakers to campus. “In our nation,” Shirley said, “it is unconstitutional to charge a student group extra fees for security simply because a speaker’s views are controversial or don’t meet with the approval of Temple University administrators.” In a letter to Temple president Ann Weaver Hart, FIRE cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement, which determined that a local government could not charge higher-than-customary fees for police protection at events simply because they were controversial – reasoning that “speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.” As a public university, Temple was bound to abide by the Supreme Court’s decision. Just last week Valerie I. Harrison, Temple’s associate university counsel, notified FIRE that the school was waiving the $800 fee for TUP, though she offered no explanation for the decision.

But Temple’s retreat does not mean that this novel means of throttling free speech has been abandoned by administrators anxious to placate campus radicals. A similar controversy arose last November at the University of Southern California (USC), when the College Republicans hosted an appearance by guest speaker David Horowitz. The group was subsequently billed $1,400, ostensibly to cover the cost of additional security that the university had unilaterally arranged for the event. Ultimately a few angry trustees were able to convince the administration to drop these extra charges, although, in a manner reminiscent of the Temple case, USC’s administrators offered no explanation as to why they had reversed course.

Now another confrontation is brewing, this time at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), where former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove is slated to speak (and introduce his new book, Courage and Consequence) on February 25, at the invitation of the school’s College Republicans. Up to now, the projected cost of the event was expected to be $25,000, of which more than half ($12,933) would be covered by Associated Students, a nonprofit organization funded by undergraduate fees. But now, a local group known as SB Anti War, characterizing Rove as a “war criminal,” has announced that it plans to protest the event; some members have threatened to throw paint on Rove, leaving the implication that significant violence was possible if the event went forward.

According to Ryan McNicholas, the College Republicans’ event coordinator, the protest being organized by the left has caused security costs for Rove’s appearance to skyrocket. “Because of protester threatens to throw paint on Rove,” he says, “we have had to redirect more of the funds we received into security costs…. It’s costing us somewhere around $900 an hour to have all the Campus Security Officers and UCPD officers necessary to secure the area. And it’s absolutely ridiculous to force a small organization, like College Republicans, to foot that bill.”

In addition to its plans to demonstrate against Rove’s appearance, SB Anti War has been collecting signatures in an effort to rescind the funding that Associated Students has pledged for the event. The vice president of Associated Students, Chris Wendle, says the original decision to fund the Rove event was unrelated to latter’s character or political persuasion. Rather, it was in accordance with the legal code of even handedness that governs Associated Students. “We have to follow the rules,” Wendle explains. “We’re not going to debate the political opinion of an event, regardless of whether or not it’s Karl Rove. Basically, our decision to provide funding was objective.”

It remains to be seen whether the UCSB College Republicans, like Temple University Purpose and the USC College Republicans before them, will be able to fight off a campus left and its enablers in the administration trying asphyxiate their first amendment rights by a technique morally akin to the poll tax in the Jim Crow South. But even if they do, the era of fees and assessments to keep conservative groups from bringing another point of view onto the monochromatic university is upon us.


British Conservatives would scrap new legal burden for homeschoolers

The Tories would scrap a new duty that requires parents who educate their children at home to be registered with councils. Michael Gove, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said that he would block plans which “stigmatise” home educators. Under the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which has almost finished going through Parliament, local authorities will setup databases of home-educating families and visit them to ensure that standards are met.

It came after a report into home education by Graham Badman, a former headteacher and director of children’s services, published last summer, who said that there was a need for greater regulation. England has one of the most liberal approaches to home schooling in the Western world and it is not known exactly how many children are taught at home, nor whether they are reaching an acceptable standard of education.

In a debate yesterday on the timesonline blog, Schoolgate, one parent said: “Home educators have no faith in government after being treated so badly by Labour. How can that be rectified?”

Mr Gove said that he thought parents who educated their children at home did a wonderful job. He said: “Government should support them and we won’t allow the current Government’s plans to stigmatise home educators to get through.” Mr Gove promised that clauses of the Bill relating to home education would never become law if the Tories won power in the general election.

A report into home education last year revealed a lack of regulation. It said: “It is a cause of concern that, although approximately 20,000 home-educated children are known to local authorities, estimates vary as to the real number which could be in excess of 80,000.” Mr Badman, its author, added: “I am not persuaded that under the current regulatory regime, that there is a correct balance between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child — either to an appropriate education or to be safe from harm.”

The review found evidence of a small number of extreme cases, where home-educated children had suffered harm because concerns were not picked up. Its recommendations, which were accepted in full by the Government, included parents having to submit statements of what they intend to teach over the coming year. It also said that local authority officials should have the right of access to parents’ homes, after two weeks’ notice, to check the child is making progress.

A spokeswoman for the Action for Home Education group said: “For years home educators have tolerated unfair treatment by local authorities whose understanding of home-based education is, with few exceptions, minimal or non-existent. We are tired of being subjected to unreasonable suspicion and unfair scrutiny when we are doing the very best for our children. “We believe there are moves afoot by government to restrict traditional freedoms to educate children outside the school system and we are determined to do our utmost to prevent this.”


1 comment:

Robert said...

I would suggest Temple bill the MSA, UC Santa Barbara bill SB Anti War, and USC bill whoever threatened to make trouble for the extra security costs, because those groups by their own actions or threats of criminal action made those extra expenditures necessary. If the universities had the balls to do that, we would see an end to all that trouble-making B.S. real quick.