Saturday, March 10, 2007

Governor Chooses Well to Sign "Gay-Clubs" Bill


According to the sponsor of Utah House Bill 236, the new law codifies policy of various Utah school districts, requires the upholding of Utah State law, and allows parents the opportunity to know what extracurricular groups their children are involved with. As long as schools don't violate any equal access laws, I think this will be a good thing.

I searched the entire text of the seventh substitute of House Bill 236, and I was not able to find either of the words "gay" or "homosexual". Yet the Deseret News did its darndest this morning to paint the bill as nothing but a "gay clubs" bill (and their headline didn't even have quotes). Oh, the politicization of politics by the supposedly unpoliticized media, huh?

The new law, which governor Huntsman signed yesterday is much more than that, but who's in the mood for detailed analysis? WE WANT OUR SOUND BITES, NOW!!!! The governor's spokesman stated

"There were prior versions of the bill that he would have vetoed. However, this legislation simply codifies items already in state board rules," said Mike Mower, the governor's spokesman. "It also makes clear that it is not targeting any one club or organization."

"The seventh substitute HB236 ensures parents will have the right to approve of any school club or organization their child participates in," Mower said.

That sounds pretty good to me. There may have been ulterior motives in the sponsoring of the bill, but the end result was not ulterior.

Here are some other highlights of what reads to me as common-sense law:

  • Clubs may not threaten "physical, emotional, psychological, or moral well-being of others."
  • Clubs cannot encourage criminal behavior, bigotry, or be substantially involved with human sexuality.
  • The club's name must be in keeping with its purpose and cannot suggest or encourage violation of school board policy or state law.
  • Faculty monitors of religious clubs can only be supervisors; they may not participate in the club's activities.
  • As regards use of school facilities, no clubs shall be given preference or priority over any others. The same rules will be applied as regards access to yearbooks, newspapers, the school's public address system, etc.

The Deseret News article quotes Margaret Plame, of the Utah American Civil Liberties Union.

The language, it's ambiguous enough that some schools may view it as permission to ban clubs they or their community find to be controversial. Under the Equal Access Act, that's not permissible...(If a district does that) the state will be responsible for defending a lawsuit for which potentially they shouldn't have had to."

She's right. The language is ambiguous in places. For example, the law requires, in the consideration of granting charters to school clubs that the school:

  • "maintain order and discipline on school premises;"
  • "maintain the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior;"

If a school rejects a club because other members of the student body or faculty would be offended by the club's purpose, and might subsequently create a public disturbance about it, Utah would be open to lawsuits. Another ambiguity relates to whether a student could purposefully seek out a club that discusses issues related to homosexuality and then feels that from his or her attendance the club is an affront to his or her "moral well-being." Such an action would be wrong-headed, but it could occur under the current law.

In the future, it would be good to clean up such legal language slightly. But when it comes right down to it, this law is a much better product than I thought it would be. I think that it's something that encourages mature dialog, and it's something mature people can live with, and not just in a begrudging sort of way.

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