The 2015 legislative session may – or may not – be otherwise memorable, but certainly will be known for symbolic gestures that drift into censorship.
Earlier in the year, the Senate voted to remove the statue of Junipero Serra, the 18th century Spanish missionary who brought Christianity to California and built the first of the state’s famed missions, from the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a statue of astronaut Sally Ride.
It acted as Pope Francis prepared to canonize Serra, who has been the target of criticism by Indian activists for the harsh treatment of natives by early Spanish settlers.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, has pressed legislation to compel schools which use “Redskins” as team mascots to choose new names, arguing that the word is demeaning to native peoples.
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Neither complaint is new, but for more than century, the state’s Indians, impoverished and powerless, were largely ignored by politicians. When, however, the tribes acquired a monopoly over California’s multibillion-dollar casino business and flexed their political muscle, the Legislature suddenly became more sensitive to their issues.
The latest spasm of symbolism was triggered by the murder of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, allegedly by a racist young man.
California politicians suddenly discovered a need to exorcise Confederate names from the state’s public places.
It was discovered that two Southern California schools had been named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and newly elected state Sen. Steve Glazer responded with a bill aimed at erasing the names of Confederate leaders not only from schools, but all public facilities.
Democrat Glazer learned that the problem of glorifying the Confederacy, as he defined it, goes beyond two schools.
There is, for example, Fort Bragg, a small town on the Mendocino County coast named for Braxton Bragg, a U.S. Army officer who later became a general in the Confederate rebellion.
There’s also a neighborhood in Stockton, Lincoln Village, with some streets named for Confederate figures.
Glazer backtracked and agreed to take cities out of his bill, while telling Fort Bragg via letter it should change its name.
However, if he’s taking a moralistic stand, why exempt Fort Bragg from his measure’s mandatory provisions? Political expediency, it would seem.
And what about other prominent figures who have done things later deemed to be morally reprehensible?
Should the name of Gov. Earl Warren, who championed the confinement of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II, be removed from many public facilities?
Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher raised the issue Tuesday, citing the “potential slippery slope here,” as the Assembly Judiciary Committee approved Glazer’s bill.
It’s a valid point. Once we start imposing censorship to enforce revisionist notions of moral impurity, where does it end?