Conservatives attacking Americans’ First Amendment rights
Steve Corbin is Professor Emeritus of Marketing, University of Northern Iowa
I fondly recall my senior year in high school when Mary Beth Tinker, John Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore black armbands to their high school to protest the Vietnam War. Their suspension from school was cast around the thought that wearing armbands would disrupt learning. In a landmark Supreme Court case – Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) – justices agreed students’ rights should be protected plus they refuted the school’s stance by candidly stating, “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates.”
Many of today’s GOP-oriented governors and legislators, far right-wing groups, conservative media and Republican presidential candidates have either passed or supported book banning, anti-LGBTQIA and anti-racist curriculum laws. It’s a blatant attack on the constitutional rights of students, parents, teachers, general public and book authors. Several organizations and politicians -- identified by a multitude of sources -- are named as a threat to Americans’ intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights.
Moms for Liberty (MFL) may be the most cited right-wing extremist group. Founded in 2021, MFL is referred by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an anti-government and conspiracy propagandist group of 120,000 members in 285 chapters throughout 44 states who, among many beliefs, are anti-LGBTQIA, anti-gender identity and anti-inclusive educational curriculum, which includes school pedagogy, social emotional learning and books. MFL has been featured on the Rush Limbaugh Show, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Glenn Beck Program, Newsmax and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s show. MFL is associated with several chapters of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, 3 Percenters, Gays Against Groomers and GOP’s affiliated Heritage Foundation.
It’s quite ironic that MFL touts they are for liberty, yet are willing to strip others of their liberty to read books of interest. The American Library Association reveals of the 2,571 book titles banned for censorship in 2022, 58% were targeted for schools and 41% were aimed for adults in public libraries. Hence, the organization is not only attacking students’ First Amendment rights but also 78% of Americans who are adults. No Left Turn in Education (NLTIE) urges parents to ban LGBTQIA rights and books categorized as anti-racism, anti-police, critical race theory and comprehensive sexuality education since those concepts don’t align with their autocratic agenda. Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education (PDE), has been described as a “veteran political operative affiliated with the Koch network.” PDE is a group of “corporate school privatizers going hard right to attack school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers” (Media Matters for America, Nov. 12, 2021).
According to the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Blog, “No Left Turn in Education, PDE and Moms for Liberty share inflammatory claims about `radical agendas’ to disguise their desire to engage in censorship and government control of intellectual freedom.” Book banning narrows students’ cultural understanding, world view and critical thinking capability.
Finally, there’s the Goldwater Institute (GI) who proudly states their aim is to control public school’s K-12 curriculum. Individuals who are cited by multiple sources to be in concert with MFL, NLTIE, PDE and GI include: former president Donald Trump (R-FL), former U.N. Ambassador and Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), former Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA), Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy (OH).
America was founded on the value and importance of free expression. According to John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty (1859), free speech must be protected from political, economic and social tyranny. When our First Amendment rights are purposely being attacked by right-wing extremists, they are attempting to shackle the minds of children and adults plus America’s future. Bottom line: we are witnessing politicians and groups who want America to abandon its 1630’s New England Colonies democracy roots and become an authoritarian country like Russia, China and North Korea, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
- Jacqui Higgins-Dailey, The stakeholders of status quo, Intellectual Freedom Blog of American Library Association, March 10, 2022
- Moms for Liberty, Southern Poverty Law Center, 2023
- Olivia Little, Unmasking Moms for Liberty, Media Matters for America, Nov. 12, 2021
- R.J. Praker, Better dead than read: Moms for Liberty and book banking in America, David Political Review, July 19, 2023
- Kristina Watrobski, Parents’ rights orgs labeled `hate’ and `extremist’ groups by Southern Poverty Law Center, CBS Austin, June 7, 2023
- Laura Barron-Lopez and Matt Loffman, GOP presidential candidates appear at far-right Moms for Liberty event, PBS News Hour, June 30, 2023
- Andrew Atterbury, DeSantis names Moms for Liberty co-founder to Florida ethics panel, Politico, Sept. 6, 2023
- Paul Steinhauser, Moms for Liberty takes center stage again in 2024 Republican presidential race, Fox News, Sept. 6, 2023
- US Republican candidates woo controversial Moms for Liberty group, Al Jazeera, June 29, 2023
- Juan Perez, Jr., The parents group Republicans are banking on to win the White House, Politico, June 30, 2023
- Gregory Krieg, How `Moms for Liberty’ grew into a 2024 Republican power player, CNN Politics, June 30, 2023
- Ali Swenson, Moms for Liberty rises as power player in GOP politics after attacking schools over gender, race, Associated Press, June 11, 2023
- Francesca Block, Gov. Kim Reynolds pushed `parental rights’ to Moms for Liberty crows. Protesters pushed back, Des Moines Register, Feb. 3, 2023
- Republican presidential candidates canoodle with Moms for Liberty, The Economist, July 6, 2023
- Reuters, From schools to statehouses, conservative Moms for Liberty push to grow influence, NBC News, April 6, 2022
- Tyler Kingkade, Moms for Liberty’s conservative activists are planning their next move: Taking over school boards, NBC News, July 17, 2022
- Wikipedia, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, https://www.en.m.wikipedia.org
- Goldwater Institute, https://www.goldwaterinstitute.org
- Moms for Liberty, https://www.momsforliberty.org
- Parents Defending Education, https://www.defendinged.org No Left Turn in Education, https://www.noleftturn.us
- Gays Against Groomers, https://www.gaysagainstgroomers.com
Disclosure: Steve is a non-paid freelance opinion editor and guest columnist contributor (circa 2013) to 172 newspapers in 32 states who receives no remuneration, funding or endorsement from any for-profit business, not-for-profit organization, political action committee or political party.