A new bill introduced by two Republican state legislators in Arizona seeks to ban courses on topics such as “social justice” in an apparent reaction to the Social Justice Warrior movement that many on the right believe threatens free speech — apparently, without realizing the irony.
HB 2120, introduced by state representatives Bob Thorpe and Mark Finchem this year, would ban courses that “promote division, resentment, or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people” or “the overthrow of the United States government,” that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” that “advocate solidarity or isolation based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender or social class instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals,” “violate state or federal civil rights laws” or “negatively target specific nationalities or countries.”
“If you then look at an individual whose ancestors, because of their race, for example, they are linked to people that did something 100 or 200 years ago, that person who’s living today has little or no association with what happened 200 years ago,” Thorpe said. “So let’s not have a wedge issue and cause that person to be vilified when they absolutely had nothing to do with some event that happened in the past.”
The point of view that Thorpe expresses here certainly sounds like something that many conservatives would agree with, but it’s also important to remember that it’s just that — a point of view. The entire idea behind social-justice classes is that what happened “100 or 200 years ago” actually does have an impact on the current generation — and that’s a point of view, too. Conservatives are proud to call the defense of “free speech” one of the main aims of their movement, but the truth is, you cannot call yourself a “free-speech advocate” if you’re going to support legislation that seeks to censor opposing views, no matter how absurd you think those views might be.
The language in HB 2120 could actually lead to blanket bans on conservative talking points, too.
Of course, in many cases, it is absolutely true that these kinds of classes can have the potential to breed resentment. In fact, I have spent years of my life writing about the senselessness and potential negative impacts of some of these classes and campaigns, but the fact is, a piece of legislation that would place a blanket ban on a group of ideas is no better than a language campaign that would place a blanket ban on certain words and phrases regardless of context.
What’s more, as Reason’s Robby Soave points out, some of the language in HB 2120 could actually lead to blanket bans on conservative talking points, too: “The clause banning classes or events promoting ‘the overthrow of the United States government’ would probably not be of great benefit to the free speech rights of Second Amendment die-hards who frequently argue that the right to bear arms was always meant as a bulwark against a tyrannical government,” Soave writes.
So, what are conservatives who are concerned about social-justice tyranny on campuses to do? Write about it. Expose it. Deal with any particular campaigns or classes that they think may violate the law and/or constitutional rights on a case-by-case basis. In short, they should take a page from their own book, and remember to value freedom enough to think twice before getting the government even more involved in education.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.