First proposed by UCSA President Victor Sanchez early this month, the legislation is a collaborative effort between the two groups. Sanchez brought the idea before UC officials during a series of meetings between UCSA and the UC Office of the President to discuss potential ways of improving the campus climate.
Sanchez said the legislation would target not only hate speech — which includes racial slurs — but also “acts with intent to terrorize,” the legal wording used by the university to describe a Feb. 25 incident in which a noose was found hanging in Geisel Library.
“The legislation would focus on banning both hate speech — such as [student newspaper] the Koala — and hate acts such as the hateful historical use of objects, like hanging a noose,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez has been working with A.S. Vice President of External Affairs Gracelynne West and BSU co-chairs David Ritcherson and Fnann Keflezighi to draft the legislation language.
“We looked at the existing law and began writing the essential components in a way that we hope won’t mess with the First Amendment,” Sanchez said.
According to West, the legislation would ensure hate speech or terrorizing acts not be protected by the First Amendment, and be instead punishable under state law.
San Diego American Civil Liberties Union David Blair-Loy said such a bill would be unconstitutional unless it dealt with true threats, or threats that a reasonable person would interpret as meant to inflict harm.
For example, California Law AB 412 classifies hanging a noose in a public area as a misdemeanor punishable up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine
However, Blair-Loy said hate speech is not a true threat, and is protected by the First Amendment.
“Racial slurs and epithets and hate speech don’t qualify as true threats,” he said. “It’s offensive, it’s degrading, but it is unconstitutional to make it illegal.”
He added that the university cannot define which speech is protected.
“Every time the university establishes speech codes to try to end hate speech, it’s always been struck down by the courts,” he said.
Alec Weisman, editor in chief of the student Republican newspaper the California Review said that such legislation would create a slippery slope for the definition of hate speech.
“One person’s hate speech is another person’s freedom of speech,” Weisman said. “I don’t want to see someone’s morals being used to define what is and what isn’t hate speech. If they want to speak against hate speech, they should, instead of shutting everyone down.”
Sanchez said he is confident the bill would not violate the First Amendment, and said he disagrees that it would create a slippery slope.
West, Sanchez, Keflezighi and Ritcherson met with UC President Mark G. Yudof and the UC Board of Regents for preliminary discussion of the legislation following the UC Commission on the Future meeting, which was held from March 23 to March 25 at UC San Francisco Mission Bay.
West said Yudof and the regents were supportive of the legislation, but stressed that the language needed to be revised to prevent it from breaching the First Amendment.
“We’ve been told that the way it’s worded now, it’s not going to pass, and the way we worded it, it can’t be pushed through,” she said. “We’re working on editing and strengthening the legislation.”
Sanchez said he is hopeful the regents will pass the legislation on a statewide level — which would impact the University of California, California State Universities and the California Community College systems.
“The regents are finally beginning to feel the heat to act on this,” he said. “We’re applying pressure, and we’re hopeful that it’ll go through.”
Sanchez said he wants to have a finalized draft ready in time for the next regents meeting in May, so the bill could go to vote in the state legislature shortly thereafter.
West said she plans to arrange a conference call with Sanchez, the BSU leaders and UCOP Vice President and General Counsel for Legal Affairs Chris Robinson to strengthen the bill’s language. She said that if the legislation is passed in California, she will push for it to be implemented nationwide.
During the Commission on the Future meeting — attended by West and members of the BSU — the regents were also scheduled to discuss Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal that the university manage prison health care with a company called NuPhysicia. However, the regents cancelled the briefing and instead created a committee to research the matter further.
“The committee hasn’t even been created yet,” UC spokesman Peter King said. “We’re acting as the intermediaries, and there’s a lot of different players and different things that need to be worked through.”
Sue Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, said the system would create conflicts of interest.
According to Wilson, senior vice president for health sciences John Stobo — a supporter of the prison health care idea — was affiliated with NuPhysicia in his previous post as president of the University of Texas medical branch, and could stand to gain if the system adopted the prison health-care proposal.
However, King said these allegations were unfounded.
“These are terribly phony concerns,” said King. “It’s union reps making ill-advised innuendo about Dr. John Stobo, who has no financial stake and connection to the business now.”
King said the regents will revisit all options at their next meeting from May 18 to May 20 at UCSF.
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