Lawmakers in South Carolina are nearing passage of a bill that would require all public college and university students in the state to study America's founding documents. While the legislation has broad support, some Democrats in the state House opposed the bill in committee, referring to it as "indoctrination" and suggesting that requiring schools to offer a course that teaches the U.S. Constitution and other documents is just "blowing smoke."
Senate Bill 38, the "Reinforcing College Education on America's Constitutional Heritage Act", or REACH Act, was introduced in the state Senate by Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley) to reform state education law. The bill would require all South Carolina public college students to take a three-credit hour class on American history, American government, or an equivalent course that requires at minimum reading the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Grooms' bill would update and modernize existing state law that requires institutions of higher learning to teach a yearlong course on America's founding documents, a law that the bill's supporters say is largely not enforced. The existing law, which is 97 years old, mandates that students complete a "one year" class on America's founding documents and be examined on their "loyalty" to the United States.
The REACH Act would shorten the course requirement from one year to three credit hours, remove the "loyalty" provision — which is problematic for foreign students — and empower the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education to enforce the law.
The bill passed the state Senate in March in an unanimous roll call vote of 45-0. It will be considered in the state House as early as Wednesday this week after advancing through committee on March 16 over the objections of some Democrats.
State Rep. Michael Rivers (D-St. Helena Island) was one of the House Democrats who opposed the bill. Calling it "indoctrination," Rivers said, "we talk about America being built on God ... but until there's repentance there's no forgiveness of sins. And we can write the Federalist Papers, we can write whatever we want. But until there's some acknowledgement about the sins of the past we are just whistlin' Dixie."
Rivers suggested that requiring students to read the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and other documents could perpetuate "falsehoods" about American history that could lead to "1861 again in South Carolina."
"This stuff in S. 38, what it's saying, is that we want to indoctrinate college students on their dime to what we think is important," Rivers said. "It's just blowing smoke."
State Rep. Garry Smith (R-Greenville), the REACH Act's chief sponsor in the House, told TheBlaze in an interview Monday that studying America's founding documents will ultimately make South Carolina students better citizens.
"An idea of liberty for all, that whole idea in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, those things are found in the Constitution. It flows, it goes together, it was meant to do that. And when we're looking at education in the United States and in South Carolina, we're looking at education to build good citizens who can function in our representative republic," said Smith, who is an affiliate professor of political science at North Greenville University.
By reading America's founding documents, he explained, students will be taught the ideas and principles that animate American government, ideas like federalism — how state governments have some powers under the Constitution that the national government must not infringe upon.
"We're in such danger right now of losing these ideas because you've got a Congress and an administration in Washington, D.C., that is looking to take those rights that under the Constitution were reserved for the states and for the people and make them federal rights. That's completely contrary to what's intended," Smith said.
"When you have citizens that don't understand that liberty for all — and they're thinking about equity instead of equality, and dividing us instead of uniting us, then we've got a real problem," he added.