Conservatives attacking Americans' First Amendment rights

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party. 

I fondly recall my senior year in high school when Mary Beth Tinker, John Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore black armbands to their high school to protest the Vietnam War. Their suspension from school was cast around the thought that wearing armbands would disrupt learning.

In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case from 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines, seven justices agreed students’ freedom of expression should be protected. The majority refuted the school’s stance by candidly stating “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates.”

Many of today’s GOP-oriented governors and legislators, far right-wing groups, conservative media, and Republican presidential candidates have either enacted or endorsed book banning or limits to curriculum on LGBTQ and anti-racist topics. It’s a blatant attack on the constitutional rights of students, parents, teachers, the general public, and book authors.

Here are a few of the organizations and politicians have threatened Americans’ intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights.

Moms for Liberty, founded in 2021 may be the most cited right-wing extremist group. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described Moms for Liberty as an anti-government and conspiracy propagandist organization, with an estimated 120,000 members in 285 chapters throughout 44 states. Among other, the group advocates against inclusive books or educational curriculum materials, covering LGBTQ topics or gender identity, and even against some forms of school pedagogy, such as social and emotional learning.

Popular conservative programs hosted by Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck, Newsmax, and Megyn Kelly have featured Moms for Liberty. The group has also been associated with several chapters of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, 3 Percenters, "Gays Against Groomers," and the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation.

The irony is that despite the group's name, Moms for Liberty seek to strip others of their liberty to read books of interest.

According to the American Library Association, there was a record number of attempts to censor library books and materials in 2022, targeting 2,571 unique book titles. About 58 percent of the challenges were related to materials in schools, and 41 percent sought the removal of materials from public libraries. Hence, the organization is not only attacking the First Amendment rights of students, but also the rights of any adults who use public libraries.

No Left Turn in Education urges parents to oppose LGBTQ rights and books categorized as anti-racist, anti-police, critical race theory, and comprehensive sexuality education, since those concepts don’t align with their autocratic agenda.

Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, is a “veteran political operative affiliated with the Koch network.” Parents Defending Education has been described as “corporate school privatizers going hard right to attack school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers."

According to the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog, these groups "share inflammatory claims about 'radical agendas' to disguise their desire to engage in censorship and government control of intellectual freedom." Book banning narrows students’ cultural understanding, worldviews, and ability to think critically.

Finally, there’s the Goldwater Institute, which proudly states its aim is to control curriculum in K-12 public schools and restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at universities.

Republican politicians who have either praised these groups or endorsed their policy objectives include former president Donald Trump, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Iowa Goveror Kim Reynolds, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

America was founded on the value and importance of free expression. According to John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty (1859), free speech must be protected from political, economic and social tyranny. When right-wing extremists attack our First Amendment rights, they are attempting to influence the future by shackling the minds of children and adults.

Bottom line: we are witnessing politicians and groups who want America to abandon its democratic roots and become an authoritarian country like Russia, China, or North Korea. As written in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

Top image of First Amendment is by zimmytws and available via Shutterstock.

  • There is no Rule of Law apart from the political actions of the people involved

    the courts have shown a lot (ever increasing really) of deference to elected officials and school administrators along these lines to limit student expression in and outside of the classroom, and to set their own curriculum. Let's be frank about two things, first the our constitutional rights these days are largely in the hands of a revanchist Supreme Court that is likely to uphold these kinds of actions by their fellow believers, and second that there is no clear redline between selection and 'bans", government officials and employees will alway be in the business of including some books (and or behaviors) and excluding others so the tasks are to get the right people in positions of authority around these matters and to try and create/foster better means of making decisions around what does or doesn't happen in schools.

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