PHOENIX — A bid by a Prescott Valley lawmaker to mandate that Arizona students be taught about communism isn’t the state’s first foray into the issue.
One state statute goes back to 1961 and the Cold War declares that it is “essential that schools, colleges and universities teach objectively and critically the governmental and social forms of past and present totalitarian slave states.” The law even says that’s why students need to learn the foreign languages spoken in those countries.
That verbiage actually is part of election laws that not only declare that international communism “seeks converts far and wide by an extensive system of schooling and indoctrination” but separately outlaws recognition of the Communist Party of the USA in Arizona.
Those election restrictions are likely unenforceable, with a federal judge ruling in 1973 that it they are illegal and unenforceable, though he made no mention of the schooling language.
But that didn’t keep the Republican-controlled legislature from reenacting the language as recently as 1979 as part of a rewrite of the state election code —and the bill from being signed by Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt.
The statute is a diatribe about protecting the state from “the international Communistic conspiracy.”
It declares that, unlike other political parties, members of the Communist Party have no role in determining its goals and cannot voice dissent. And it says they are indoctrinated and “organized, instructed and disciplined to carry into action slavishly the assignments given them by their hierarchical chieftains.”
In deciding the Communist Party should have no role in Arizona politics, lawmakers declared that its members were simply waiting until the states was “so far extended by foreign engagements, so far divided in counsel, or so far in industrial or financial straits, that overthrow of the government of the United States and of the several state by force of violence may seem possible of achievement.”
Lawmakers said they did not need to look far, citing “recent events in the neighboring country of Cuba” where the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown in 1959 by a revolution led by Fidel Castro.
All that, however, is likely to be little more than unenforceable rhetoric.
U.S. District Court Judge William Copple looked at the statute when the state moved to block the Communist Party USA from putting its candidates for president and vice president on the 1972 general election ballot.
The judge said that the question of how political activity might be prohibited “may depend to some degree on one’s philosophy of the fragility of the democratic process.” But he said that what Arizona sought to do was legally unacceptable.
“To peremptorily eliminate a large group of minority voters and their party from the political scene not only sweeps too broadly as a protection against subversion, but also set up in the current law constitutional conflicts not otherwise present,” Copple wrote.
Anyway, he pointed out, there were federal laws on the books making it a crime to advocate the overthrow of government by force or violence.
“In the absence of a showing that these people, forming this party in Arizona or the United States, are guilty of the forbidden advocacy, the statutes are merely the suppression of a hated minority,” Copple said. And the judge cited earlier rulings which have said that all political ideas cannot — and should not — be channeled into just the two major political parties.
“History has amply proven the virtue of political activity by minority, dissident groups, who innumerable times have been in the vanguard of democratic thought and whose programs were ultimately accepted,” the judge said. “It should not be forgotten that the ‘radical trade-unionists’ of our earlier history did not overthrow the free enterprises system but are not charged in some quarters with being staunch member of its establishment,” the judge said.
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