IA's History on Civil Liberties at a Crossroads
Monday, February 28, 2022
In the past two years, Iowa has adopted or proposed policies that stoke debate on whether the state is moving away from prioritizing the rights and civil liberties of certain populations.
Such things as enacting voting restrictions, limiting race curriculum, and proposed book bans in schools are among platforms championed by Republican leaders in Des Moines.
This is in contrast key milestones in Iowa's history, according to Lea VanderVelde, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. She said as these ideas are floated, the public should remember the work of past leaders on behalf of marginalized people.
"Iowans like Congressman Grinnell and James F. Wilson were taking the lead in opposing slavery," said VanderVelde, "but also bringing us equal protection and due process, applying the first amendment right to free speech to the state and granting voting rights, regardless of race."
Regarding recent legislation, GOP leaders argue they want to restore election integrity, and prevent divisive and obscene topics and materials from entering classrooms.
But VanderVelde said limiting certain topics like systemic racism doesn't help students to become better thinkers.
"We're not fully preparing them to encounter those things when they see them," said VanderVelde.
She also said students should know more about landmark cases including the very first decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, which granted the freedom of a slave known as Ralph.
VanderVelde says allowing ideas and information to be taught in an unfiltered way can help students make decisions on their own.
Another bill to surface at the Capitol is a proposed banning of transgender girls and women from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.
Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
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