Lawmaker to modify divisive proposal
ASU WebDevil
April 23, 2008


Rep. Pearce set to remove ban on race-based campus groups

 by Leigh Munsil

A state 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 democracy."

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 said.

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 amendment.

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 activist group.

"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."

Reach the reporter at: