If Kansas Republicans have their way, our fact-based world will soon be illegal and reality’s liberal bias a distant memory. They have done all they can to resist facts short of simply making it illegal to teach them, and that oversight will be corrected with a new piece of legislation, Senate Bill 401, “AN ACT concerning crimes and punishment; relating to promotion to minors of material harmful to minors.”
And no, this bill, which is backed by the American Family Association, is not aimed at pornographers. It is a sort of “religious freedom” bill like those we have seen in Kansas and Arizona, but aimed at teachers rather than at gays and lesbians.
Harmful material, in case you’re wondering, also does NOT include a Bible filled with rape and murder and King Solomon’s lurid musings (e.g. Song of Songs 7:1-9). They do still definitely want to bring the Bible back to school in Kansas. Harmful material, in this case = reproductive facts and anything else they might not approve of.
According to The Wichita Eagle,
Senate Bill 401, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, was drafted in response to a January incident at a Shawnee Mission middle school in which a poster used in sex education classes was put on a classroom door.
What were they thinking at Shawnee Mission middle school? Everybody knows babies come from God.
Yes, the reproductive system has been deemed pornographic. Sexual facts have been deemed pornographic. Boys do not have penises and girls do not have vaginas and never shall the twain meet in fundamentalist fantasyland.
Shawnee Mission district has removed the poster “pending a detailed review of the material.”
SB 401 has your typical Religious Right impetus behind it. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) who introduced it, has also introduced a bill requiring parental consent for sex education in public schools, SB 376. You’d think sex education would be a given – stay home if you want to believe in storks or a sex-free Jesus-based baby delivery system.
The Kansas-National Education Association is not impressed, pointing out that, “If this bill were to pass, it would provide more ammunition for anyone to petition to bring a teacher, librarian, or principal before a grand jury.” The KNEA makes clear that,
Senate Bill 401 removes from public, private and parochial schools the defense of literary or artistic merit or significance when someone accuses the school of exposing students to “offensive” materials.
The same applies to literature. For years people have tried to get books pulled from literature classes and school libraries. Huckleberry Finn, I Know Why the Caged Bird
Sings, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret are three examples of books that have been challenged over the years. But the defense of literary merit has been allowed. Senate Bill 401 removes that defense from public, private, and parochial schools.
If you think this only has to do with “obscenity,” you are wrong. While the bill does address obscene materials, its provisions also apply if “a reasonable person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors.” This language is so broad as to include almost anything.
Could someone challenge Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry as lacking “political value?”
Makes you wonder how these people deal with all the pornographic material in their Bibles, both violent and sexual. What the Bible has in it makes this poster seem tame by way of comparison.
What is interesting is that, where the Bible is concerned, the Religious Right is a big defender of the “free exchange of ideas.” In February 2013, the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom got upset that a Kansas school banned fliers with biblical verses. This prompted Legal Counsel Matt Sharp to say,
Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas. The law on this is extremely clear: school policies cannot target religious speech for exclusion. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all students, regardless of their religious or political beliefs.
The Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit, K.R. v. Unified School District No. 204, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, explains, “Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Non-disruptive, private student expression is protected by the First Amendment.” Moreover, “the government may not discriminate against speech based on its viewpoint, regardless of the forum.”
The lawsuit also notes that the student’s posting of the material did not “interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activity within the school.”
“Marginalizing students of faith removes an important influence for good from the school community,” added Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “We hope the school district will revise its policy so that students can exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”
So…Free speech cannot be discriminated against “regardless of it’s forum” – unless that forum contains material the American Taliban does not like. Remember when right wing groups in Kansas tried to keep Harry Potter away from children? The First Amendment wasn’t a big deal then, was it?
Unless the content is Christian-specific, in fact, Religious Right groups care nothing at all for the First Amendment rights of the students, as demonstrated by a couple of examples, also from Kansas:
Books involving sexual relations, especially homosexual relationships, are often targeted. A 1995 federal court case involved the Olathe, Kansas, school board, which voted to remove the book “Annie on My Mind” from school libraries. The novel illustrates a lesbian relationship between two teenagers. The court found the school board violated the students’ rights under the First Amendment and the equivalent provisions of the state constitution. Although the school board originally said they banned the book because of its “educational unsuitability,” the court ruled that they actually objected to the book’s premise and principles and overturned the book’s removal. (Case v. Unified School District No. 233)
Another example of censorship based on homosexuality was the 2000 case of Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas. Members of a church in Wichita Falls fought to remove two books, “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Daddy’s Roommate,” because they objected to the books’ descriptions of homosexuality. The city council voted to restrict access to the books if 300 people signed a petition asking for the restriction. Another group of citizens filed suit after the books were taken out of the children’s section and put on a locked shelf in the adult area of the library. The federal district court permanently stopped the city from enforcing the resolution permitting the removal of the two books because the resolution was not narrowly tailored, had no review process and was unreasonably content-based. (Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, Texas)
If Kansas Republicans have their way, King Solomon can fantasize about a woman’s breasts in class, but, in the words of the KNEA, “A teacher who takes a field trip to the state capitol and suddenly notes the bare breasted woman in the artwork in the rotunda can be accused of recklessly exposing students to nudity.”
So the First Amendment protects religious belief but it does not protect facts? By now the world should realize that whatever First Amendment these groups are citing, it is NOT the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because THAT First Amendment most definitely states that the government shall not establish religion. Period. And it guarantees freedom of speech for everyone, not just jack-booted religious thugs trying to force their religious beliefs down the throats of others. It cannot be applied “as wanted” to those things they want read and withheld from the things they don’t like. That is not how it works, and it is to be hoped that Kansas voters will soon remind them of that. If not, you know the courts will.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.