While we hope that USC’s football program improves, let’s also hope USC’s program of fighting against America’s founding values collapses.
The University of South Carolina’s football program has not done well the last five years, but USC’s program of fighting against America’s founding values has.
For more than five years, USC has fought against complying with a South Carolina law that requires public colleges to teach students America’s founding documents and the values they enshrine—calling the law “archaic.”
Two weeks ago, a committee in the South Carolina House of Representatives delayed a Senate bill that would update the existing law. Titled the Reinforcing College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage Act (REACH Act), the legislation updates the existing state law that requires college students to take a class on our nation’s founding documents to graduate. (There’s a separate state law that applies to high schools.)
The House committee delayed the bill until next year because USC objected to it. USC’s objection to the bill was bizarre because updating the law was USC’s own idea and it helped craft the very legislation to do so.
For 95 years, South Carolina law has mandated that public colleges require students to take a yearlong class on the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers. The law also provides that students must pass a “satisfactory examination” on those documents at the end of the yearlong class.
But in 2014, University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides called the law “archaic” and refused to comply.
Pastides said the law was inconvenient, in need of “modernization,” and that the University of South Carolina teaches the founding documents in ways that “best benefit modern undergraduate … exposure and understanding” by passing out pocket Constitutions on Constitution Day.
Under that dubious logic, the University must also think it could teach chemistry by handing out copies of the periodic table on World Science Day.
Pastides said USC cannot comply with the law because, in addition to requiring students to take a yearlong class on founding documents, the law also requires that a college be “satisfied” with a student’s loyalty to the United States.
He claims that’s “problematic” and would generate “lawsuits in the federal judicial system.” So, because Pastides personally views one small nonessential portion of the law as unconstitutional, he has elected to ignore the other requirement that mandates a yearlong class on the nation’s founding documents—an unorthodox view from a layman considering the South Carolina Supreme Court has held, “all statutes are presumed constitutional and will, if possible, be construed so as to render them valid,” and if necessary, the Court will “sever” off a statute’s unconstitutional portion if the statute’s remaining provisions “stand alone.”
Here, USC has consciously chosen not to follow state law because of one debatable provision that is not essential to the main point of the law – teaching college students about the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the founding documents essential to our Republic.
Senate Passes REACH Act
In February, the South Carolina Senate passed the REACH Act to remedy this problem. The bill, if enacted, would remove the basis of USC’s loyalty objection by deleting the law’s loyalty provision altogether. The legislation to remove the current law’s loyalty provision was initiated at the request of USC President Pastides.
The Senate’s passage of the REACH Act, however, did not come without a fight. The Senate debated the REACH Act for over three hours, with opposition from a minority of senators—who alleged teaching college students America’s founding documents and the principles they enshrine would come at too great a cost.
Refuting this chicanery, Sen. Chip Campsen (a co-sponsor of the bill), said if USC was genuinely concerned about cost it would redirect existing funds to teach the founding documents—as required by state law—instead of wasting funds on unimportant courses such as “Viking Mythology,” “History of the Devil,” and “Tailgating 101,” all of which are real courses USC currently teaches.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Larry Grooms (the bill’s primary sponsor), emphasized the REACH Act makes complying with the law both easier and cheaper for public colleges because the legislation reduces the existing law’s required class time from “one year” to a one semester three-credit-hour class and allows colleges to exempt students who complete AP Government while in high school.
During a spirited debate, Sen. Grooms gave an impassioned oration in the Senate in which he expounded America’s founding ideals are what make America exceptional and therefore students must learn the founding documents from which these ideals emanate. After Sen. Grooms’ moving plea to the Senate to pass the REACH Act, it passed overwhelmingly with only a few Democrats voting against it. By a bi-partisan vote of 29-7, the Senate passed the REACH Act and sent it to the House of Representatives where it was referred to the Committee on Education & Public Works.
Committee Debate in House of Representatives
On March 19 in the House of Representatives, the REACH Act passed subcommittee, but was soon delayed in full committee.
The bill’s subcommittee advancement, just like its Senate passage, did not come without a fight. USC and Representatives Ivory Thigpen and Wendy Brawley fought against the REACH Act in subcommittee for over an hour.
USC opposed the bill at the subcommittee meeting, which was bizarre because updating the law was USC’s own idea and it helped craft the very legislation to do so. Even so, USC’s taxpayer funded lobbyist, Derrick Meggie, testified against both the current law and against updating it to require students to take a three-credit-hour course on the founding documents.
Subcommittee Chairman Bill Taylor, who supports updating the law, asked USC to give an account for why it does not require a course on America’s founding documents (as mandated by law) yet requires six credit hours in courses on “Global Citizenship” (not mandated by law).
Take a look:
USC admitted it violates the law by not requiring a class on the founding documents. Instead, USC claims to follow the “spirit of the law” by passing out pocket constitutions on Constitution Day, hosting an annual trivia game on the Constitution, and saluting veterans at a football game each November.
USC claims the amalgamation of the pocket Constitutions, trivia games, and military salutes at football games is a sufficient equivalent to the law’s actual requirement that the instruction on the founding documents be a “one year” class that concludes with a “satisfactory examination.”
Chairman Taylor asked, “Does USC teach other subjects, like chemistry or German, in bits and pieces like that?”
Take another look:
After this confrontation, the bill passed subcommittee. But two weeks later, the bill was delayed at full committee. Twice, on April 2 and May 1, the full House Education & Public Works Committee debated the REACH Act and, twice, delayed the bill at USC’s request.
USC lobbyist Derrick Meggie objected to the bill’s requirement that there be an “exam” at the end of the semester course—even though current law already requires an exam at the end of the “one year” course. The “exam” the USC lobbyist said, “is the part that stands out” of why USC both opposes complying with current state law and opposes the bill to update the law.
The legislature adjourned for the year on May 9 and is now halfway through the 123rd session of the South Carolina General Assembly (2019-2020). The legislature will not return for the session’s second half until it reconvenes in January 2020.
The full House Education & Public Works Committee delayed sending the REACH Act to the House Floor before it adjourned for 2019 but promised it would consider the bill when the legislature reconvenes for the second half of the session in January 2020.
Founding Documents Necessary to Preserve Freedom
In his First Inaugural Address, 230 years ago in 1789, President George Washington told the American people they must remain watchful to preserve the freedom for which they had fought a war of independence, because “the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
What were these principles and republican model that Washington believed were staked on the experiment of the American people? The principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, which include the God-given rights of life and religious freedom.
Knowledge of these principles is not something with which citizens are born. Rather, the principles must be taught and learned. Therefore, it’s critical that college students are equipped with a firm understanding of the documents where these principles are enshrined.
For 95 years, South Carolina law has appropriately required public colleges to teach students America’s founding documents.
Disturbingly, however, USC chooses to violate state law by not requiring such classes—calling the law “archaic”—and instead chooses to require unimportant classes on “Global Citizenship,” and wrongly prioritizes public funds on elective courses like “Viking Mythology” and “Tailgating 101.”
In February, the South Carolina Senate passed the REACH Act to remedy this problem. But in April and May, the House of Representatives Education & Public Works Committee delayed the REACH Act until January 2020 because USC objected to the legislation. Legislation USC helped write.
It is unfortunate the House committee took the advice of USC to delay the bill instead of the advice of the bill’s supporters to advance it. Supporters of the REACH Act include Palmetto Family President Joshua Putnam, Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston Director Michael Acquilano, South Carolina Baptist Convention Director of Public Policy Joe Mack, and Coastal Carolina University President David DeCenzo. To its credit, Coastal Carolina University complies with the existing law.
State Rep. Garry Smith (the sponsor of the House version of the bill) said, “if Baptists, Catholics, and a public college president can all agree on this bill – that sends a powerful message that this legislation is a good idea.”
When the legislature returns in January 2020, let’s hope the House passes the REACH Act and sends it to Gov. Henry McMaster for his signature so college students learn America’s founding documents and the principles they enshrine to preserve—what Washington called “the sacred fire of liberty.”
And while we hope that USC’s football program improves, let’s also hope USC’s program of fighting against America’s founding values collapses.
Jameson C. Broggi is a 2020 J.D. Candidate at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School and a University of South Carolina alumnus. He is from Beaufort, South Carolina.