Siloam Springs Herald Leader

‘Sneaky’ attack on 1st Amendment looms

- MAYLON RICE Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publicatio­ns. He can be reached via email at maylontric­ The opinions expressed are those of the author.

The conservati­ve assault on gender issues, especially those on college campuses in the state, was somewhat defeated down in Little Rock late last week.

But be assured the state Senators like Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro will be back. Even if it means he will undo some campus protection­s and freedoms he and others allowed back in 2019 in a compromise bill intended to direct college professors and administra­tors to bow down to their constant blows on ‘gender’ issues.

Sullivan last week pulled back his bill, sensing the new “clarificat­ion of free expression protection­s on college campuses,” was about to suffer a defeat at the Senate Education committee level, and thus would be hard to bring back into the legislativ­e light in the 94th General Assembly.

After some quick and intense questionin­g from fellow senators, for which Sullivan had no ready answers, he pulled down the controvers­ial bill.

Sullivan’s bill joins a trio of other “protection,” bills now in the legislatur­e that spring from the sponsor’s lone admonition that “they have heard from others these protection­s are needed.” That is the real stickler. Who is the “they” in “they” who have allegedly written emails, made calls or contacted these legislativ­e sponsors about such needed legislatio­n?

And why are few ever presented as witnesses to these proposed bills in committee?

Over in the House, state Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, fresh from a very hard-fought election for her state House seat in a rural multi-county district in central Arkansas, is waging war with gender free bathrooms.

Bentley, if one listens to her monotone rhetoric, apparently spent most of her time knocking on the doors in parts of Yell, Pope, Perry and Conway counties, where parents and grandparen­ts begged her to protect the children from such vile social issues as “transgende­r,” “public drag shows,” “sex choice bathrooms” and certainly she throws in the Senator Sullivan on “gender pronouns used in college classrooms.”

Brantley, a native of Massachuse­tts, has had a speckled political career but has found her way to victory on the “keeping our children safe,” in the public schools, libraries and other public venues of the state.

One has to wonder how she will change her tune, along with Sen. Sullivan on the proposed $50,000 a year starting salary for the public school teachers at the many districts in House District 73 in the counties of Yell, Pope, Perry and Conway counties.

Senator Sullivan of District 20, whose district covers parts of Craighead County and the cities of Jonesboro, Bono, and Herndon Township, will also need to answer the central question of whether he is all for the children when the bill for higher, fair, equitable salaries for public school teachers comes into play.

It was in the super majority state Senate that Sullivan found he did not have enough votes from his GOP committee members, but instead opposition to his bill that he pulled the legislatio­n back.

But it will be back before the committee, he vowed last week.

Both Sullivan and Bentley, albeit in different legislativ­e chambers, have sought to change their tactics for previous sessions in advancing their conservati­ve views on such issues.

Both now, forgo the issue of the courts and suing for the rights of Arkansans and simply try to soft pedal these very partisan bills as “for the children.”

With Sullivan last week, it was about personal freedoms and about money.

“So, we spend a lot of money on higher ed and it’s only right we have the same freedoms outside (the classroom) as we have inside (the classroom) with additional protection­s,” Sullivan said.

His bill allows for brief and nonviolent disruption­s inside campus buildings.

Members of the committee said they had concerns over whether the bill would permit disruption­s inside buildings on college campuses, taking issue with the bill calling for “minor, brief, or fleeting nonviolent disruption­s of events” to be permitted, but not in places that have been reserved (on a campus) for such an event as a protest.

Most Arkansans, I hope, can see through his charade.

Sullivan said his bill would protect the free expression of students who misgender their classmates, but also students who wanted to dress in drag. And it would allow them to disrupt the college buildings and classrooms.

One very bad idea.

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