Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), who introduced the bills, told The Epoch Times that partisan politics played a role in the committee’s decision, which she said threatened freedom of speech.
“I am extremely disappointed the majority party in the Senate Judiciary Committee could not see past their partisan blinders to protect everyday Californians from becoming victims of discrimination due to their party affiliations and beliefs,” Melendez said in an email.
“If current laws fail to protect political affiliation and political belief discrimination, it will only reinforce the actions of teachers and employers to victimize more California students and employees.”
Senate Bill 238 (SB 238), also known as the Diversity of Thought Act, sought to amend the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by adding political affiliation as a protected class. Senate Bill 249 (SB 249) would have changed the Education Code to prevent discrimination and harassment based on political affiliation.
“Cancel culture and bullying completely defy the very nature of our Constitution and our protected rights of freedom of speech and expression,” Melendez said. “Political censorship and cancellation serves no purpose in our democratic society except to silence the opinions of others who may disagree.”
Opposition From Democrats
During a chamber discussion on April 20, Democratic members on the Senate committee expressed concerns about the clarity and intent of the legislation.
Sen. Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) wanted a clearer definition of “political affiliation.”
“There are some groups that affiliate politically, but they’re not associated with any particular group in that sense,” she said.
Melendez said that her staff’s request to work with the committee to define the term was denied. She said the absence of a definition isn’t necessarily problematic, pointing out that a number of terms within the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act—such as race, color, ancestry, marital status, citizenship, and primary language—also remain undefined.
“And yet, we have been able to apply the law equally without a very specific definition,” she said.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) used an extreme example to illustrate potential problems he foresaw with SB 238: He wanted to know if a hypothetical employer would be able to legally deny the application of someone who participates in the Nazi movement.
“What about [if] they’re just posting things on social media? … Would an employer be able to say, ‘You can’t work here’?” Weiner asked.
Melendez said anti-Semitic statements would qualify as hate speech more than political ideology. “That’s a whole different category—and unfortunately, anti-Semitism knows not only one political party,” she stated. “It is unlikely that someone who is a member of a Nazi movement would want to go work for an organization that has the exact opposite views.”
Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) zeroed in on a hypothetical scenario presented in the Judiciary Committee’s analysis, where a job candidate appears for an interview at Smokey Joe’s BBQ Shack and Whiskey Bar wearing a Mothers Against Drunk Driving T-shirt and a ball cap that reads “Go Vegan!”
“You couldn’t discriminate against somebody’s political beliefs in hiring them. You would be forced to hire [them],” Wieckowski said, even though “she’s confrontational.”
“Being a vegan” is not a political conversation, said Melendez. “In a situation like that … I would imagine that a prospective employer would find a whole host of reasons not to hire that person, so I don’t think that that comes into the conversation.”
Melendez contended at the hearing that certain thoughts and belief systems are facing censorship and must be protected by law.
She mentioned the Walt Disney Company’s firing of Gina Carano following an Instagram post by the actress that compared the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany to the current hate directed toward those who hold different political views.
Melendez also referred to Sephora cutting ties with Trump supporter Amanda Ensing because the influencer, according to the company, “shared content on social media that is not aligned with Sephora’s values around inclusivity.”
Melendez maintains that cancellation isn’t just a problem for public figures. Her own constituents—two of whom testified before the committee via teleconference—said they had experienced “cancel culture” firsthand.
Steve Campos, a Riverside County resident who’s been teaching for 23 years, described a hostile work environment faced by educators like himself.
“Our school board has determined that BLM [Black Lives Matter] is not a political organization. That means wearing a BLM shirt or having BLM as your virtual background is OK, but if someone wears a Blue Line flag in support of law enforcement, then somehow they are racist,” Campos said.
“Our conservative voice is not only being silenced, but we are vilified on social media platforms for having a differing opinion … that does not align with the progressive political agenda that has infiltrated public education.”
College student Chris LeColst said that despite his professor’s demands, he refused to remove a “Trump 2020” icon from the profile picture he used to attend virtual classes.
“My professor eventually dropped me from the class and admitted the only reason I was dropped was that profile picture,” LeColst testified. “It was a painful reminder that in today’s hyper-political environment, it’s Republicans who face an uphill battle … every day, just to have their voices heard here in California.”
Melendez said that today’s society no longer tolerates disagreement from the majority viewpoint.
“In today’s society, we have lost our ability to agree to disagree,” she said at the hearing. “We have lost our ability to listen to the viewpoints of others, to be civil and understanding in that agreement. We’ve turned to tribalism and mob advocacy instead, shaming people into joining one viewpoint, sacrificing their own just to avoid scrutiny or backlash.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to defeat the bill by a 9–2 vote, with the committee’s two Republicans, Vice Chair Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Sen. Brian W. Jones (R-Santee), supporting both measures.
Borgeas said he thought there are currently enough protections for this type of political belief, but “it’s helpful when we openly declare, through legislation, that is exactly what we intend to do … to disallow discrimination based on affiliation.”
Jones said that “the marketplace of ideas in schools seems to be degrading.”
“We need to explore and be exposed to these different ideas, and not allow for there to be a prevailing wisdom culture,” he said, in support of SB 249.
Both bills have been granted reconsideration status, allowing for another committee vote in the future that could offer a second chance at approval.
In her statement to The Epoch Times, Melendez said that “the voices of millions might be silenced” by the committee’s failure to pass the bills.
“These bills are not just about the group of people being targeted today; it’s also about protecting the people who might be targeted tomorrow,” she said.