False Equivalence: Political Speech and School Curriculum

Local Seattle radio hosts present a fallacious comparison.

Proposals that seek to limit aspects of free speech are coming from both sides of the aisle during the current legislative session in Washington state.

Too many Americans appear to take a civics lesson from statements like this.

School curriculum is not and never was attached to First Amendment free speech. When speaking on behalf of your employer, if you make statements your employer disapproves of, you lose your job. You are not at all likely to defend your job based on a First Amendment argument.

A school teacher in front of the class is on the clock and is speaking on behalf of his or her employer which in the case of public schools is the public. In that setting, the First Amendment does not apply, the approved curriculum does. It’s just that simple.

The debate of course is over the school curriculum. The criteria for acceptance, one would hope, should be simple; whether or not the curriculum is accurate. Zinn’s books, CRT, and the 1619 project are not accurate, this should end the debate.

I do not favor banning books except possibly in the most extreme cases, even books known to be full of inaccuracies. If a student is interested in finding out why so many millions of people were murdered by their own government over the last 100 years or so, I think they should be able to read what Marx said. This is very different from teaching that Marxism is a positive good, which would be manifestly false.

The second item in the article (and on the show) is Governor Inslee’s proposal to make it a crime for politicians and candidates to knowingly lie about election fraud.

This item does fall within First Amendment territory. Because it is narrowly crafted to “knowing” lies about election fraud, it may pass constitutional muster – but I doubt it. I wonder what Inslee would think of a similarly narrow bill that made it a crime to knowingly lie about climate proposals? Further, how would anyone ever know whether the accused “knew” a lie was being told.

If passed, the entertainment value of Inslee’s proposal may be worth giving it a try for a few years. Politicians of all stripes knowingly lie all the time, Inslee himself being among the worst offenders. If forced to take up the argument that they did not know that they were lying, they’ll be forced to admit they are incredibly uninformed (or misinformed – or just plain stupid). That could prove of some value.

Putting my cynicism aside though, I oppose Inslee’s proposal on First Amendment grounds. Such legislative “logic” has obvious and dangerous potential for abuse.

In any event, Gee & Ursula ought to take better care to accurately report, compare, and contrast. And their listeners and readers should look elsewhere for instruction in civics. The only party proposing to limit free speech is Governor Inslee.

It would be more accurate to state that proposals from both sides are aimed at limiting misinformation.


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