Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Free Speech Follies

Saturday brought word of two interesting free speech clashes.  The first takes place in Nevada, where a challenge to state recusal laws was upheld. In the face of a conflict of interest that would otherwise bar an elected official from voting, the Appeals Court ruled that in wake of Citizens United case, voting could be considered an exercise of free speech.  The details from Saturday’s New York Times:

Nevada’s law requires elected officials to disqualify themselves, much as judges often do, when they are asked to vote on matters that touch on what the law called “commitments in a private capacity.”

In 2006, not long before an election, a member of the Sparks City Council, Michael A. Carrigan, disclosed that his campaign manager was a consultant to a business seeking to develop a casino, before voting its way in a land-use matter. The Nevada Commission on Ethics later ruled that the vote was improper and censured Mr. Carrigan.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying it violated the First Amendment and citing the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United. “Voting by an elected public officer on public issues is protected speech under the First Amendment,” Justice Michael Douglas wrote for the majority.

Careful with your singing!

Meanwhile, in the state to the south, a different use of Free Speech was being invoked, as the State of Arizona shut down a Mexican-American ethnic studies program at the Tucson High School.  The conflict superficially follows the bitter division in the state over Hispanics and immigration.  The perceived problem is that the program is that it is in the business of creating “little activists.”  As the New York Times makes clear, part of the reasons lie in literature (aside: while Pablo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is no friend of such conservatives, it is well worth reading), and part in pique.  It also comes wrapped in a sympathetic irony: the author of the measure, the State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, also was a marcher in the great Civil Rights struggles of the 60s.

Nonetheless, the intent of the bill was to shut down the Tucson program. The bill of particulars is plain:

Programs that promote the overthrow of the United States government are explicitly banned, and that includes the suggestion that portions of the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that country.

Also prohibited is any promotion of resentment toward a race. Programs that are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality are also outlawed.

On Monday, his final day as the state’s top education official, Mr. Horne declared that Tucson’s Mexican-American program violated all four provisions.

The good news in all this has been that the school board stands with the school.

Meantime those who care about the First Amendment can only scratch their head.  How is it that one type of speech focused on ethnic pride is prohibited, but another that seems to promote “honest graft” is sanctioned? Oh well, as they say, “see you in court.”


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