Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Durango Herald, May 14, on the Colorado Legislature passing bills that restrict lawsuits and promote media literacy:
It is sometimes fun to pretend we can take our problems to James Madison, who brought forth the Bill of Rights, and say, “James, the president is calling the press the enemy of the people again,” or, “Jimmy, now people are being sued for voicing their opinions.” What is fun about this, for us, is that we imagine him giving the same answer every time: “We gave you the First Amendment!”
The Colorado Legislature saw fit to bolster it this session by passing two house bills, “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” and “Media Literacy.” Both are on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk now. “I am not aware of any problems with those bills that would prevent them from getting my signature,” Polis told the Herald editorial board last week.
The first bill is aimed at curbing such SLAPP suits. Typically, a political advocate takes aim at, say, a corporation, accusing it of wrongdoing. The corporation, in our example, then sues the critic, to silence her. The new law means the defendant can avail herself of an expedited court process in which she tries to get the case dismissed on the grounds that it arose from exercising her First Amendment rights. In practice, it seems likely to benefit environmental advocates who criticize industry practices, but if the Sierra Club or the Humane Society wanted to sue to silence a proponent of fracking or puppy mills, it ought to work the same way.
If this is balancing the scales, let us have more of it.
The second bill directs the state Department of Education to devise a curriculum to teach mandatory media literacy in public schools K-12, overseen by a committee of educators and media professionals. Students would learn the difference between truthful information and advertising or advocacy, said its sponsor, Rep. Lisa Cutter, a Democrat from Littleton.
“If we want people to make educated decisions we have to first educate them on how to make educated decisions,” Cutter told Boulder Weekly. “Kids are exposed to news every minute of the day. They constantly have things blowing up on their phones and coming across on text. ... You can’t block it out. ... It’s been harmful for our democracy and harmful for our dialogue, because they double down on information that’s not even true.”
We take no issue with this. Yet Cutter probably would be equally correct if you substituted “adults” for “kids.”
It would be lovely if we could encourage adults to become more discerning news consumers; more rational, less partisan. Yet we suspect we err when we assume that is what they want to be, rather than simply entertained. And in doing so, we underestimate the pull of circuses for a largely urbanized and alienated populace.
What is our ideal? That someday everyone will read The New Yorker online, or that they will eschew Alex Jones and Fox News en masse and tune in to PBS NewsHour?
They are already voting their preferences. We may call that ignorance, we may call it distractibility, but if it were something legislation or better government could cure, you would think it would have done that already.
True, we could try to institute mandatory adult education in media literacy. We could try to set up reeducation camps guided by committees of sociology professors from the University of California, Berkeley, and editors from The New York Times and National Public Radio — which is precisely what a raft of conservatives suspect we already aim to do. They would be delighted to be proved correct but we are not sure what else would be accomplished.
Back in the old schools, the new law, as we read it, says only that the new committee will hire a consultant to prepare a report to submit to the Legislature. We do not think that this is the camel’s nose of Maoism in anyone’s tent, but we will happy to reconsider when the Legislature gets that report.
The Pueblo Chieftain, May 13, on trading North Korean coal freighter for the USS Pueblo:
Hey, North Korea, wanna trade?
Last week, the United States seized a 17,000-ton coal freighter from North Korea. The ship was suspected of being used to violate trade sanctions imposed on the rogue regime. That prompted U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner to call for the ship to be swapped for the USS Pueblo.
North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a spy ship, in 1968. One of the crewmen was killed during the incident and 82 others were captured and tortured for nearly a year. The USS Pueblo is docked along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, where it is used as an anti-American propaganda museum.
It’s unacceptable that North Korea has held onto the ship for all this time. And it’s even worse that it’s being used in a way that promotes hatred of our country.
So Gardner was correct in suggesting that the USS Pueblo’s return should be part of any deal that involves the return of the coal tanker. Hopefully, other leaders, including those in President Donald Trump’s State Department, will join the refrain.
Of course, North Korea has ignored calls for the ship’s return in the past. However, now that we have one of its boats, the United States may have more leverage than it’s had before.
It’s not that the two ships are of equal value. The equipment used aboard the USS Pueblo has long since been obsolete. A functional modern tanker surely is worth more strictly from a financial standpoint.
However, the USS Pueblo is a powerful symbol and it needs to be returned home.
Ideally, it belongs in the town for which it was named, perhaps on display at Lake Elizabeth or Lake Pueblo. Here, it could be a tourist attraction for all the right reasons.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the return of the USS Pueblo is all the United States should ask for. If North Korea still has the remains of members of our military killed during the Korean War, we should be asking for those, too. And we should continue our efforts to convince North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program.
However, it’s unlikely that North Korea would chose to disarm itself, particularly if the regime sees nuclear weapons as the key to national security.
The return of a 51-year-old boat is a much easier ask. And if North Korea’s leaders were rational, which isn’t necessarily the case, they would want to make such a trade.
In any case, it doesn’t hurt to make the request. The worst the North Koreans can do is say “No,” which is what they’ve been doing for more than half a century.
Maybe this time, they’ll have a different answer and we can bring a piece of American history back to where it belongs.
The Gazette, May 13, on the University of Colorado settling a discrimination lawsuit brought by students in a Christian group:
The University of Colorado will soon recognize and fund Ratio Christi, a small Christian student group at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. It will also enforce a new policy that respects freedom of association for all, as ensured by the Constitution.
The change results from the settlement of a federal discrimination suit brought by four UCCS students. The agreement includes a new policy that says student groups may restrict leadership positions to individuals who agree with any organization’s fundamental tenets. It allows a group to require leaders to sign a statement guaranteeing they will uphold the organization’s values, goals, beliefs, and more.
Chance Hill, the Fifth Congressional District representative on the Colorado Board of Regents, fought for the settlement and policy change by working with fellow regents, campus chancellors and university counsel. An associate at a prestigious law firm, Hill has experience relevant to the conflict.
“Like any other student group at a public university, religious student organizations should be free to choose their leaders without government meddling,” Hill said in a statement for The Gazette.
“As a result of this policy change, all CU campuses will soon formally recognize and register student groups of all kinds — regardless of whether they require that their group leaders subscribe to the mission of the student group (and so long as other non-discriminatory policies are followed).
“It’s a very important change — while still respecting U.S. Supreme Court precedent and all relevant laws — including the First Amendment. In my personal view, the new policy is much more intellectually defensible and easier to apply consistently.
“This is a great outcome for UCCS, the CU System, the Colorado Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and the taxpayers of Colorado! Freedom has prevailed.”
The Ratio Christi lawsuit contained multiple detailed examples of the university allowing other student groups to restrict membership, let alone leadership, to students who agree with the organization’s principles.
Under the old policy, homophobic bigots could take control of an LGBT group. Trophy hunters could take over small vegan groups, or atheists could command control of religious clubs. On today’s politically charged campuses, activists infiltrate groups with intent to “reform” or destroy them. That is why groups reasonably try to restrict leadership to members who defend the organization’s purpose.
Only imagination limits possibilities of student activists joining groups en masse to take over leadership positions. What can happen usually will happen.
The Gazette warned in February that UCCS was likely to lose the lawsuit in federal court. We based the opinion, in part, on a recent federal court ruling against the University of Iowa for actions similar to those of UCCS.
Iowa administrators refused to recognize and fund Business Leaders in Christ. That group has a less sympathetic gripe than the UCCS club. It does not let anyone join — much less lead — who does not agree to a statement of faith. The Iowa club’s statement includes a commitment to avoid sex outside the marriage of a man and woman.
Liberal Democratic Judge Stephanie M. Rose, appointed by President Barack Obama, said the university unfairly discriminated against the conservative Christian group because it unevenly applied the policy. It was the claim made by lawyers for the UCCS students and backed by documented examples.
CU Vice President Patrick O’Rourke, university counsel and secretary of the Board of Regents, explains the policy will uphold the university’s prohibition against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. That means a Jew could serve as president of a Muslim club, but may be required to sign a statement of obedience to the Quran and Shariah.
“Theoretically you could have a Republican lead a Democratic group, but that person may need to sign a pledge to uphold the organization’s Democratic mission,” O’Rourke said. “We want a lot of different clubs and organizations so we can expose students to a variety of ideas.”
CU’s new policy strikes a good balance. It allows any student to join any group funded by student fees. That’s as it should be. Vegans should welcome meat eaters and then show them another way. Christians should welcome non-Christians to learn about Christ. LGBT groups should welcome heterosexuals, so they can learn about the challenges endured by people with other sexual orientations.
Leaders of a group, by contrast, play a fundamental role in preserving, protecting and promoting an organization’s charter. The synagogue can survive atheists and Muslims in the pews; it needs a rabbi at the pulpit.