Scott Walker Goes All ‘Duck Dynasty’ on the First Amendment

Scott Walker Goes All ‘Duck Dynasty’ on the First Amendment

Scott Walker Goes All ‘Duck Dynasty’ on the First Amendment

The ACLU accuses Walker of “bogus appropriation” of free speech arguments to defend offensive acts by government.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

Scott Walker will never be accused of displaying a high regard for the First Amendment.

The Wisconsin governor who tried to close the state Capitol to mass protests against his anti-labor policies, and who then engineered a rewrite of rules so that veterans, grandmothers, teachers and firefighters were arrested for singing, has offered ample evidence of his disregard for the rights to speak freely, to assemble, to petition for the redress of grievances

So it came as a surprise when Walker suddenly announced that First Amendment concerns had led him to sign a new Wisconsin law that makes it significantly harder to get schools to drop Indian logos, mascots and team names that Native Americans, educators and community members have identified as objectionable. Indeed, Walker has adopted a position that reinterprets the US Constitution’s free speech protection in a far more adventurous way than the folks who are currently arguing about the controversial statements of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson.

Walker readily admits that many Wisconsinites view the school nicknames as “seriously offensive.” And he says he personally supports “moving away” from the use of them.

In a letter to Wisconsin’s tribal leaders, the governor wrote: “I share many of your concerns about some of the mascots and nicknames used in Wisconsin and across America. If it were up to me personally, I would seek viable alternatives that were not offensive to Native Americans.”

So why didn’t Walker veto the measure—which Wisconsin Indian Education Association spokeswoman Barbara Munson decried as “institutionalized racism”—and just let existing law stand?

Walker says it has something to do with the First Amendment.

“If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop?” asked Walker. “A person or persons’ right to speak does not end just because what they say or how they say it is offensive.”

But a school district is not a person, like Duck Dynasty’s Robertson, who was suspended from the A&E program after making statements that drew loud objections from civil rights groups. Robertson’s supporters have countered criticisms from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Human Rights Campaign, among others, by arguing that, as an individual citizen, Robertson has every right to say what he thinks.

Nor is a school district a private enterprise, like A&E, which has faced threats of boycotts from Americans who are uncomfortable with Robertson’s statements.

A school district is a public entity, which is supposed to serve all the people in a community.

“School districts are creatures of the state, bound to abide by state standards,” Milwaukee attorney Brian Pierson. who had helped defend the existing state law in court, explained to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.“A school district doesn’t have a First Amendment right to adopt an Indian mascot any more than it has a First Amendment right to adopt the swastika as school symbol or ‘white supremacy’ as school slogan

The issue never was—and is not now— “a person or persons’ right to speak.”

In fact, when Walker signaled he would make a First Amendment argument for his decision to sign the legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin objected.

“This is a bogus appropriation of the First Amendment,” explained executive director Chris Ahmuty. “The governor apparently does not understand that the First Amendment protects citizens from government censorship. Government programs are not allowed to offend, harm or otherwise discriminate against citizens on the basis of the First Amendment. The First Amendment simply doesn’t apply when it’s the government taking action.”

Noting that “school team names, mascots, logos and all that go along with them are the responsibility of the public school district,” Ahmuty explained that it was entirely appropriate for a public school district or the state Department of Public Instruction to take steps to address offensive names.

“Why would a public school district want to harm some of its students?” asked Ahmuty, who added, “Free speech is no justification.”

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy
x