In March, the South Carolina House voted to cut $70,000 in funding from the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate to punish the schools for asking students to read books that included LGBT content. The Senate voted Tuesday to restore that funding in its version of the budget, but the funding came with caveats.
Sen. Larry Grooms (R) proposed the amendment (Amendment No. 71A) to the Senate version of the budget that would maintain the funding cut in the House. But he, like his House counterparts, opposes the universities’ use of LGBT-inclusive books, which he described as “pornography.” Though his amendment restores the funding, it dictates that the money specifically be used for instruction of “the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals.”
Grooms’ amendment refers back to a 90-year-old law (Section 59-29-120), which requires that all publicly funded schools provide a full year of instruction on topics such as the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Federalist Papers. State Solicitor General Bob Cook has described the law as “constitutionally suspect and problematic,” particularly because it also requires a student to prove the “power of his loyalty” to the United States in order to receive a degree.
Moreover, Grooms, who believes the schools “did something wrong” by assigning books with LGBT content, added special exceptions for students to be excused from having to be exposed to any books or lectures outside of classroom instruction that they might object to for basically any reason:
A public institution of higher learning that conducts a non-elective reading program, other than as part of an instructional class, must provide alternative reading materials to a student who finds the required reading material objectionable based on a sincerely held religious, moral, or cultural belief. A student who requests alternative materials must not be subjected to any negative consequences or disparate treatment by any officer, official, faculty member, or other employee of the institution as a result of making the request.
A public institution of higher learning that conducts a mandatory lecture, seminar, or other similar type presentation or program, other than as part of an instructional class, must allow a student who finds the program objectionable based on a sincerely held religious, moral, or cultural belief to decline to attend or otherwise participate in the program. A student who declines to attend or otherwise participate must not be subjected to any negative consequences or disparate treatment by any officer, official, faculty member, or other employee of the institution as a result of making the request.
These restrictions would extremely limit the universities’ ability to provide any kind of diversity programming or extracurricular materials that expose students to new information and cultures. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell (R), who will become the College of Charleston’s president in July, said that the amendment “chills academic freedom.” Alison Piepmeier, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the college, added: “That’s not academic freedom. It’s academic bartering.”
The South Carolina House and Senate will have to resolve the differences between their budgets in conference.