Censorship is alive and well and growing again. It’s happened in the past and it is happening now.
A few examples:
A bill has been introduced in Oklahoma to charge teachers personally from their own pockets, $10,000 per incident per individual if they teach any biology that offends Christian principles.[i] In an attempt to use the strategy of the Texas anti-abortion law, Republican state Senator Rob Standridge has sponsored a bill he is calling the “Students’ Religious Belief Protection Act”. Under his proposed law, parents could demand the removal of any book with perceived anti-religious content. This could include things like LGBTQ issues, the Big Bang, other scientific issues and even birth control. Teachers could also be sued individually per incident, per individual and the fine would have to be paid from “personal resources” not from school funds or individuals or groups. The teacher would be subject to termination if they could not pay.
In Iowa, state Representative Norlin Mommsen has introduced a bill to put cameras in all classrooms so that parents can monitor teachers and students[ii]. He says it is to showcase the teachers’ great work and allow parents to monitor what is being taught. It requires live feeds of the classroom and if the teacher or other employee somehow restricts the feed, they can be fined and fired.[iii]
He has also introduced bills to eliminate Covid vaccine requirements in day care centers and public schools as well as another bill preventing businesses from requiring their employees get vaccinated.[iv]
The Indiana Senate has passed a bill in committee that would jail librarians for disseminating “material or performances harmful to minors”.[v] The bill passed the committee on party lines, the Republicans supporting this bill. The law does not define the term “harmful to minors”.[vi]
Another Indiana bill would require public schools to post class curriculums and lesson plans in a way that will allow parents to review and opt their children out.
There is also a very complex section that essentially says that a school cannot require an employee to affirm that:[vii]
- Any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or political affiliation is inherently inferior or superior.
- Due to any of these conditions, that a person is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
- A person should be discriminated against because of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation
- A person should be treated with disrespect due to these factors
- A person’s moral character is determined by any of these factors
- Due to these factors, a person bears any responsibility for actions committed in the past by members of the same group.
- Anyone should feel guilt, emotional distress or discomfort because of their association with any of these factors
- Meritocracy or hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of one of these groups.
- And that a school may not require training for its employees that violates any of these factors.
Congratulations Nazis you are all better now. While some of these factors are inherent, such as race, sex, ethnicity, national origin, some of them are completely within a persons’ voluntary control. Religion and political affiliation are not inherent and we cannot excuse bad behavior hidden behind a cloak of religion and politics. I don’t think anyone can argue against the idea that a lot of evil has been done throughout history in the name of religion and politics. This bill codifies the acceptance of past evils.
You’ll also notice what isn’t mentioned in the list of factors. Sexual orientation and sexual identity. So, according to this bill, you cannot discriminate against someone because they and their political party support segregation, but discrimination against someone based on who they love is fine.
Book banning is also popular again[viii]. A Tennessee school board has banned the graphic novel Maus,[ix] a very powerful book about the Holocaust. Hundreds of books are being pulled from Texas school libraries.[x]
To some extent these bans bring the banned book to the notice of the public and many kids will be more interested in reading them because of the ban. Many book stores have a display of banned books encouraging people to read them and there are groups out there actually giving out free copies of banned books.[xi] But, less popular books, like texts and non-fiction support books that could help a confused or in crisis student will not be there when it could possibly give positive support or even save a life.
Social media is in the middle of things as well. In the last two presidential elections we became aware of the manipulation of social media to the benefit of political candidates.[xii] [xiii] Tons of misleading and false posts were made and they affected the outcome. As we all know, the First Amendment protects free speech in the United States, but only from governmental interference. Private parties are allowed to restrict speech.
For a long time, social media platforms have liked to portray themselves as nothing more than a public bulletin board where people can post notes and messages. What the public posts is none of their business. They could monitor posts and take down ones that violate some condition, but they won’t. It helps their bottom line. They don’t want to spend the resources to review postings. They claim it is too difficult, but Facebook had a profit on nearly 30 billion dollars last year. They can afford it. In fact, every Instagram post that mentions COVID, gets a link to a “vaccine resource center” automatically added to it.[xiv]
Public outcry has been so loud during the pandemic caused largely by the false postings and conspiracy theories from the anti-vax crowd and the anti-mask crowd that the social media giants have had to start reviewing posts.
Needless to say, some legislators are unhappy with that. Two Republican-backed bills in Wisconsin are trying to stop this censorship. Assembly Bill 589 would prevent censorship of media enterprises based on their content.[xv] And Assembly Bill 530 would prevent censorship of posts about political candidates and elected officials.[xvi] One of the supporters of the bill, Republican Elijah Behnke was indignant because Facebook had taken down one of his posts promoting an anti-vax rally.
What is protected speech is a huge topic, but suffice it to say both what you say, and what you do not say are protected. Social media platforms are private enterprises and the government cannot restrict what they say. So, they could allow all these false posts or they could prohibit them. Both are forms of speech. State and Federal government cannot prevent you from saying something just as it cannot force you to say something.
It is important to note that many countries prohibit criticism of elected officials and the government.[xvii] [xviii] The United States does not.
I see groups on the right, once again, trying to control what we teach our children and what we can read and do. They were emboldened by the last president and they have been playing a long game of winning control over local governments and school boards to institute their own beliefs. This is another reason to get involved in local politics.
The author[s] is solely responsible for this blog submission. It does not represent the position of the New York State Bar Association or its Committee.