Ariz. bill would bar teachers from sharing political views in class

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Editor’s note: S.B. 1542 did not advance during the 2007 legislative session and died in the Arizona Senate before it adjourned on June 20. The next session begins Jan. 14, 2008.

PHOENIX — To muzzle instructors who champion political views in classrooms, an Arizona legislator has proposed a law that would punish public school teachers and professors for not being impartial in the classroom.

If the idea were to become law, teachers said they might shy away from teaching controversial issues out of fear of being misunderstood and punished.

Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, wrote the bill that has drawn a stream of criticism and support since it received preliminary approval in a Senate committee this month.

Verschoor said his bill would protect students who are afraid to clash with instructors.

“This is absolutely about academic freedom. It allows students to practice their First Amendment right without fear of a poor grade because of it or any retaliation because they disagree with the instructor,” Verschoor said during a recent Senate committee hearing.

Teachers said that if the bill became law, they would think twice about controversial lessons because they would not want to risk being misunderstood.

Verschoor said his bill would target a teacher who said, for example, that Bush is the best president ever and former President Clinton was the worst.

He added that his bill is about “allowing more freedom in the classroom and more free discussion back and forth.”

The proposed law would highlight a “new era of censorship,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

“It certainly does raise significant free-speech concerns for teachers,” she said.

Verschoor said that his bill does not stifle free speech and that teachers still would be allowed to discuss their political beliefs outside the classroom.

The original bill, S.B. 1612, was rejected Feb. 14 by the Senate K-12 Education Committee. The Senate Government Committee, however, revived the measure on Feb. 15 as an amendment to S.B. 1542.

Tags: , , ,