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Arizona Alien Angst Causes Constitutionally Crooked Chicano Culture Clash

UPDATED 02.19.12 – In 1939, the Nazis burned books.  In the 1940s and 1950s, reactionaries in McCarthyist Cold War America burned and banned them.   Today the implementation of HB 2281 has given the xenophobes in Arizona a new end-run around the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment: Challenge students’ right to assemble freely and learn.

If the Justice Department, which has broad powers in the civil rights arena doesn’t challenge the law, it will become the blueprint for other racially discriminatory “association” laws and gubernatorial dictates in other states in the South, Southwest, and Midwest.

The Arizona Legislature passed HB2281, a law specifically aimed at the elimination of the Mexican-American Studies Program in the Tucson School District. It not only bans access to controversial books which they used to teach the program, but goes so far as to call single culture studies un-American and block students constitutional right to freedom of association.

The bill states:

“15-112.  Prohibited courses and classes; enforcement:

A.  A SCHOOL DISTRICT OR CHARTER SCHOOL IN THIS STATE SHALL NOT INCLUDE  IN ITS PROGRAM OF INSTRUCTION ANY COURSES OR CLASSES THAT INCLUDE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

  1. PROMOTE THE OVERTHROW OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT.
  2. PROMOTE RESENTMENT TOWARD A RACE OR CLASS OF PEOPLE.
  3. ARE DESIGNED PRIMARILY FOR PUPILS OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC GROUP.
  4. ADVOCATE ETHNIC SOLIDARITY INSTEAD OF THE TREATMENT OF PUPILS AS INDIVIDUALS. [1]

The penalty for districts which fail to comply is a loss of 10% of state aid for school districts that hold courses with materials that the state Board of Education or the State Superintendent of Public Instruction deem violate those prohibitions.

What is unique in the Arizona case is that the Far Right is going after the course itself , taking the books along with it.  of “ethnic solidarity” and alleged promotion of “resentment toward a race or class of people.”

In addition to the course, books that are used in schools nationwide are being suppressed for use in any other course in the TUSD because they meet someone’s definition of the state law litmus test.  What is being pulled?  Democracy Now! reports:

  • “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson;
  • William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”; “
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire;
  • “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña
  • “Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by F. Arturo Rosales.  [4]
According to Jeff Biggers in “Who’s Afraid of the Tempest,” published by Salon.com, teachers have been asked to also stay clear of books where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”  The School District may return some of the books, after backlash to that story. [5]

On the face of it, the Arizona law would seem to violate not only the First Amendment’s absolute guarantee of freedom of speech, but it also runs afoul of the Constitution’s protections for freedom of association.

The United States Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama held that the freedom of association is an essential part of the Freedom of Speech because, in many cases, people can engage in effective speech only when they join with others. [6]

The bill, window dressing for the same anti-immigrant politics that generated Arizona’s constitutionally-questionable immigration law, SB-1070, was the brainchild of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

His crusade against the Tuscon Unified School District’s Chicano studies program, in which 3 percent of the district’s 55,000 students participate began several years earlier when he learned that Hispanic civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, speaking to Tucson High School students, said that “Republicans hate Latinos,” the Associated Press reports.

The disbanding of Mexican-American Studies in the Tulsa Unified School District (TUSD) has wider implications.  Students are now forbidden to voluntarily take courses that pertain to Chicano history, culture and literature. They cannot discuss in a classroom setting the ideas of other ethnic authors that speak positively or negatively about their history.

They are not free to agree or disagree with what they read.  They are not free to think and discuss.

This is not just a violation of the civil rights of Arizona’s Latinos.  The way that the law is written prohibits courses which examine the history, culture, and issues of any ethnic group in Arizona.  African, Asian, and other programs where students can explore other cultural perspectives of their history, are also banned.

The only programs that are exempt are Native-American Studies, and federally funded English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. Adding them to the law would bring the Feds down fast, because both are federally protected.

If this violation of the First Amendment is allowed to stand, the same conservatives who brought it into play in Arizona will export the template for their success to neighboring “like minded” Republican anti-immigrant groups in Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and other states.

My shiny two.

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About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian and short filmmaker who blogs for Truth2Power, the Huffington Post, and the Daily KOS, among others.

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