South Carolina Democrats Fight to Prevent Universities From Teaching the Constitution

March 20, 2019 Updated: March 20, 2019

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South Carolina Democrats argued for more than an hour to prevent legislation that would require state universities to teach a “Constitution 101” course Tuesday, March 19.

The Republican-proposed bill would update an existing 1924 requirement to teach the course, which the University of South Carolina has hitherto ignored. The legislation has already passed in the Senate, but Democrats in a Tuesday House subcommittee hearing argued it would be too burdensome on students both financially and academically. The bill would require each USC student to take a 3-credit, semester-long class covering America’s founding documents, including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers.

Democratic South Carolina State Reps. Ivory Thigpen and Wendy Brawley argued the cost of the course, which Thigpen referred to as “Constitution 101,” may be transferred to students. They also pointed to a representative from USC who argued against the bill’s requirement that students pass a comprehensive exam covering the course material to graduate.

Republican South Carolina State Rep. Garry Smith, who is sponsoring the bill in the House, pointed to several classes not required by law that USC could stop offering if it wanted to cut costs, such as “Public Diplomacy and Global Citizenship.”

“I would argue that if you can’t pass a comprehensive exam on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, then maybe you shouldn’t graduate,” Smith said.

The bill is the latest attempt from South Carolina Republicans to get U.S.C. to offer a class that is already required by law. The first push came in 2014, which USC President Harris Pastides rebuffed with a letter listing several reasons the university could not offer the class, the law’s mandate to test students for “loyalty to the United States” among them.

“It appears that an update of these statutes is necessary to strike the balance between compliance and application,” Pastides wrote at the time. “The University of South Carolina is committed to working with members of the General Assembly on a favorable solution.”

The updated legislation appears to address each of Pastides’ concerns.

By Anders Hagstrom

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