COLUMBIA — South Carolina senators voted Tuesday to punish two public colleges for assigning books on homosexuality by forcing them to spend money on teaching the nation’s founding documents.
The budget amendment requires the College of Charleston to spend at least $52,000 and the University of South Carolina Upstate to spend $17,000 on teaching the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. Those amounts correspond with what the colleges say they spent on books dealing with homosexuality that were assigned for a freshmen reading program.
Senators took a voice vote on the compromise following days of debate. The proposal initially cut those amounts from the universities’ budgets, as the House did in its spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Republicans supporting the cuts said the books are pornographic and promote an agenda. Opponents argued legislators should not micromanage and censor colleges’ book lists.
Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto, who led the chamber’s opposition, disagreed with the compromise, too, saying there’s nothing wrong with colleges teaching the founding documents, but legislators should not single out those two.
He argued the colleges did what they’re supposed to do, in assigning books that make students think and question things. Hutto said it comes down to senators being homophobic.
“Y'all can wish away homosexuality all you want,” said Hutto, D-Orangeburg. “I’ve never heard all this squawking until it comes to homosexuality. This body has a hang up on sexuality and homosexuality. Until we get over it, we'll continue to invite upon ourselves publicity that is unmerited.”
The approved amendment requires public colleges to handle future non-elective reading programs differently.
Alternative reading materials would have to be provided – without negative consequences – to students who object due to religious, moral or cultural beliefs. The amendment also allows students to not attend an otherwise-mandatory lecture or other out-of-classroom activity if they find it objectionable.
Legislators have objected to the College of Charleston assigning “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” last summer. The book describes the author’s childhood with a closeted gay father, who commits suicide, and her own coming out as a lesbian. Much of the debate last week centered on a single drawing in the illustrated book that depicted two women having sex.
USC Upstate “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” referring to South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show. Out-of-classroom activities included a satirical show titled “How to be a lesbian in 10 days or less,” which was canceled after senators threatened further cuts, objecting to it as a gay recruitment tool.
The compromise broke a budget stalemate. Debate continues on the Senate’s spending plan for 2014-15.