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.”