- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina senators voted Tuesday to censure two public colleges for assigning books on homosexuality by forcing them to spend money on teaching the nation’s founding documents.

The budget amendment requires the College of Charleston to spend at least $52,000 and the University of South Carolina Upstate to spend $17,000 on teaching the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers. Those amounts correspond with what the colleges say they spent on books dealing with homosexuality that were assigned for a freshmen reading program.

Senators took a voice vote on the compromise following days of debate. The proposal initially cut those amounts from the universities’ budgets, as the House did in its spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Republicans supporting the cuts said the books are pornographic and promote an agenda. Opponents argued legislators should not micromanage and censor colleges’ book lists.

Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto, who led the chamber’s opposition, disagreed with the compromise too, saying there’s nothing wrong with colleges teaching the founding documents, but legislators should not single out those two.

He argued the colleges did what they’re supposed to do, in assigning books that make students think and question things.

“Y’all can wish away homosexuality all you want,” said Hutto, D-Orangeburg. “I’ve never heard all this squawking until it comes to homosexuality. This body has a hang up on sexuality and homosexuality.”

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, said his compromise was a reaction to arguments about academic freedom.

“We kept hearing freedom, freedom, freedom,” he said. “I don’t believe a lot of folks understand where the concept of freedom comes from and that is in our founding documents.”

The approved amendment requires public colleges to handle future non-elective reading programs differently.

Alternative reading materials would have to be provided - without negative consequences - to students who object due to religious, moral or cultural beliefs. The amendment also allows students to not attend an otherwise-mandatory lecture or other out-of-classroom activity if they find it objectionable.

Legislators have objected to the College of Charleston assigning “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” last summer. The book describes the author’s childhood with a closeted gay father, who commits suicide, and her own coming out as a lesbian. Much of the debate last week centered on a single drawing in the illustrated book that depicted two women having sex.

USC Upstate assigned “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” referring to South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show. Planned out-of-classroom activities included a satirical show titled “How to be a lesbian in 10 days or less,” which was canceled after senators threatened further cuts, objecting to it as a gay recruitment tool.

The compromise broke a budget stalemate.

After the Senate adjourned, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said he opposed it as chilling academic freedom.

“Colleges have a right to choose,” said McConnell, who takes on a new job this summer as College of Charleston’s president. “If you want to voice an opinion, that’s one thing but to penalize somebody is another.”

Also on Tuesday, senators removed a pay raise for lawmakers from the Finance Committee’s budget plan and gave the money to local governments instead. The $2 million had provided legislators $1,000 more per month toward in-district expenses, doubling the stipend to $24,000 yearly for each of the 170 legislators.

Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman said legislators haven’t received a raise since 1995, while the cost of gas has more than tripled since then, making it more expensive to travel around districts than can span multiple counties.

But Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, argued the pay hike sends a message that legislators believe their raise is more important than government services. His amendment added the money to the local government fund, which is distributed to cities and counties based on population.

The fund has remained at $213 million since 2012-13. Under a 1991 state law, it should be at nearly $290 million next fiscal year.

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