Lawmaker to modify divisive proposal
April 23, 2008
Rep. Pearce set to remove ban on race-based campus groups
representative said Tuesday that he plans to modify a Senate bill that would, if
passed, ban public schools and universities from teaching values that contradict
American ideals and Western civilization.
A proposed strike-everything amendment to Senate Bill 1108 passed the House
Appropriations Committee 9-6 last Wednesday with two members not voting. A
strike-everything amendment cuts everything from a bill and attaches a new,
often unrelated, proposal.
The bill, as it's written, would ban public schools from using taxpayer money to
promote "anti-American ideals."
The current bill also includes a controversial paragraph saying that
universities and community colleges not allow organizations to operate on campus
if their membership is based in whole or in part on race.
But on Tuesday, the amendment's sponsor, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he
plans to further amend the bill on the House floor, taking out a phrase relating
to "race-based criteria."
In a copy of the planned amendment that Pearce provided to The State Press,
Pearce instead inserted a phrase banning any group that "advocates, denigrates,
disparages, or overtly encourages dissent from the values of American
Those values, the planned amendment goes on to say, include democracy,
pluralism, equality and religious toleration.
Pearce said his bill was not intended to target race-based groups, but only
those that promote hatred.
"I have no opposition to people banding together with like-minded people of the
same race," he said. "We're still a little too broad, so we'll tighten it up so
it addresses what we want to address."
The bill specifically targets groups such as MEChA — the Movimiento Estudiantil
Chicano de Aztlán — and the National Council of La Raza, Pearce said.
Both groups describe themselves as civil-rights advocacy groups on their Web
sites, but Pearce said the tax dollars of Arizona citizens are being used by the
groups to promote anti-American ideals.
"[MEChA] is a terrible, bigoted organization," Pearce said.
Books circulated by the club teach how to "kill the gringo" and advocate the
overthrow of Western civilization, he said.
"It's vicious, terrible stuff, and it can't be taught in our schools," Pearce
The bill, as it stands, declares on behalf of the legislature that the primary
purpose of public education is to teach the values of American citizenship.
Public tax dollars should not be used to promote political, religious or
cultural beliefs as truth when those values are in conflict with American
citizenship and the teachings of Western civilization, according to the
Rep. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said he cast one of the six "no" votes in the
bill's Appropriations Committee hearing because he thinks it does not align with
the First Amendment.
"The bill is contrary to the principles that this country is founded on," Lujan
said. "It would discourage schools from teaching about other cultures and other
religions, which I think is the entire purpose of education."
Rep. Pete Rios, another Appropriations Committee member who voted against Senate
Bill 1108, said the bill, if passed, would have a "chilling effect" for minority
students interested in learning about their heritage.
"People in Arizona should not fear racial and ethnic minorities learning about
their cultures," he said, especially in a state this diverse, where about 35
percent of the population is Hispanic.
"I doubt that it will pass," he said. "If it does pass I will certainly be
asking the Governor for a veto."
Darlene Menjivar, a communications senior and member of the ASU chapter of MEChA,
said the group is likely being targeted because it has a reputation as a radical
"The only thing that MEChA and any minority tries to do is keep that culture
alive," Menjivar said.
Menjivar said she was against the bill and strongly disputed claims of racism
within the group.
"It's not like, say, we're going to hold a meeting today, and it's going to be
totally against white people," she said.
In her years as a member of the group, Menjivar said she has never encountered
any sort of anti-Western sentiment or bigotry.
"Every event that we've ever done is open to anyone," she said. "That in itself
proves that we're not anti-anyone."
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