South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has approved an item in the state’s 2014–15 budget that forces two public colleges to spend a combined nearly $70,000 on teaching the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist papers as punishment for assigning students “gay-themed books,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reported. The College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina–Upstate will have to pay $52,000 and $17,000 for the new teaching effort, respectively — amounts that ostensibly equal what the schools spent on the offending books. The South Carolina House of Representatives originally proposed cutting those amounts from each school’s budget as punishment instead, but after negotiations with lawmakers who opposed the idea, the legislature settled on this current “compromise.”
The books in question are Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel that tells her story of discovering that both she and her father were gay and a frequently banned book, and Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a nonfiction account by Ed Madden and Candace Chellew-Hodge of South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show.
The budget provision goes so far as to “[require] that students be excused from assigned materials or otherwise mandatory lectures or out-of-classroom activities if they object because of ‘religious, moral or cultural beliefs,’” according to a statement issued by ten organizations against the measure. Those organizations include the National Coalition Against Censorship, American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and Modern Language Association. In their statement, they write:
Such leveraging of public funds with the goal of micromanaging curriculum and excluding disfavored ideas is a destructive assault on academic freedom. It violates the right of faculty to develop curriculum and assign books based on their disciplinary and pedagogical expertise and free of outside political interference by legislators who lack such expertise. …
The measure will put a severe chill on academic freedom in South Carolina, placing students at a competitive disadvantage.
Incidentally, South Carolina newspaper The State notes that this is the first year Governor Haley has not vetoed all of the South Carolina Arts Commission’s funding since taking office in 2011.