South Carolina schools punished for spending state funds on LGBT reading materials

Two state-funded South Carolina universities are being required to teach about the United States founding documents in retaliation for the fact that the colleges spent funds on LGBT-themed reading materials.

The University of South Carolina Upstate had included lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic on its optional freshman reading list, and the College of Charleston assigned gay poet Ed Madden's Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio as summer reading for its English 101 course.

Although earlier this year the South Carolina State House had planned to cut the schools' funding by the amounts they spent on the LGBT-themed materials, the State Senate voted to restore the funding with the provision that the money be used to teach students about the United States founding documents and "the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals."

Now South Carolina governor Nikki Haley approved a budget allocation of $52,000 to the College of Charleston and $17,000 to USC Upstate, reflecting the exact amounts the two colleges previously spent on the LGBT-inclusive materials. The funds allocated with the current budget must be spent on courses teaching the country's founding documents, including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist papers. On top of this, the schools are mandated to allow students the option to avoid academic material they find “objectionable based on a sincerely held religious, moral, or cultural belief.”

A coalition of organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, American Association of University Professors, and American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression, released a statement criticizing the requirements of the state's budget provision, asserting:

Such leveraging of public funds with the goal of micromanaging curriculum and excluding disfavored ideas is a destructive assault on academic freedom. It violates the right of faculty to develop curriculum and assign books based on their disciplinary and pedagogical expertise and free of outside political interference by legislators who lack such expertise.

Penalizing state educational institutions financially simply because members of the legislature disapprove of specific elements of the educational program is not only educationally unsound, it is constitutionally suspect. The Supreme Court has sent a clear message over decades: lawmakers may not prohibit the expression of ideas simply because they find them to be offensive.

The budget goes into effect starting July 1.

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