The Heckler’s Veto

Speaking of “framing,” as I did a few days back, Jamelle Bouie had a recent column in the New York Times that addressed Republican efforts to re-brand censorship as “parental rights.”

The official name of Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibiting “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity,” is the Parental Rights in Education Act. And the state’s Stop WOKE (short for Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act, which outlaws any school instruction that classifies individuals as “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” was framed, similarly, as a victory for the rights of parents.

As Bouie points out, these bills certainly do empower certain parents–those who want to remove books, films, and even whole classes that they believe will expose their children to material with which they disagree, or to those parts of history about which they’d prefer their children remain unaware.

In Pinellas County, for example, a single complaint about the Disney film “Ruby Bridges” — about the 6-year-old girl who integrated an all-white New Orleans school in 1960 — led to its removal from an elementary school.

Lest we shake our heads and mentally write off Florida as an aberration, Bouie reminds readers that these efforts are not limited to Florida under the increasingly autocratic rule of the appalling Ron DeSantis.

In his 2021 campaign for the Virginia governor’s mansion, Glenn Youngkin made “parents matter” his slogan, and he has asserted “parents’ rights” in his effort to regulate the treatment of transgender children and end “divisive concepts” such as “critical race theory” in schools. His early moves included new history standards that removed discussions of racism and downplayed the role of slavery in causing the Civil War.

And at this moment, Texas Republicans are debating a bill — backed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — that, according to The Texas Tribune, “would severely restrict classroom lessons, school activities and teacher guidance about sexual orientation and gender identity in all public and charter schools up to 12th grade.” Texas parents, The Tribune notes, already have the right to “remove their child temporarily from a class or activity that conflicts with their beliefs or review all instructional materials.” This bill would further empower parents to object to books, lessons and entire curriculums.

These efforts certainly do “empower” a subset of racist and homophobic parents. They don’t empower the majority of parents who want their children to learn about–and learn from– accurate American history. And they run roughshod over the rights of parents who want schools to educate their children by offering them a wide library of thought-provoking, age-appropriate books and materials.

Bouie says these laws amount to the institutionalization of the “heckler’s veto,” an observation with which I fully agree.

What is the heckler’s veto?

The term originated as a judicial response to arguments often made when unpopular speakers came to town–think Martin Luther King in the South during the Civil Rights movement, or the KKK planning an “event” on Indiana’s Statehouse steps, or similarly contentious presentations that raise a non-trivial possibility of violence and protest. Those who wish to shut the speaker down use that threat of conflict to argue that allowing the speech to take place will be too dangerous.

If successful, that’s an argument that permits the “hecklers”–those who disagree with the message– to  mute the speaker, to “veto” his First Amendment Free Speech rights. The Courts have seen through that tactic, ordering localities to respond to the threat by deploying a police presence sufficient to ensure the public safety– not by disallowing the speech or rally.

“Parents’ rights,” is just another form of the heckler’s veto, giving some parents the right to deny a similar right to the parents who disagree with them. It is, as Bouie writes, a movement is that is meant “to empower a conservative and reactionary minority of parents” allowing them to dictate education and curriculums to the rest of the community.

It is part of a wider assault.

The culture war that conservatives are currently waging over education is, like the culture wars in other areas of American society, a cover for a more material and ideological agenda. The screaming over “wokeness” and “D.E.I.” is just another Trojan horse for a relentless effort to dismantle a pillar of American democracy that, for all of its flaws, is still one of the country’s most powerful engines for economic and social mobility.

The only parents these hecklers are “empowering” are the parents who are soldiers in the GOP’s war on intellectual honesty and public education.


  1. These soldiers did the same thing with farming and workers with their Right to Work and Right to Farm bills. Same red states, so get ready, Indiana.

    Of course, the devil is in the details; the noise on the surface is a cover-up. It’s all public relations and spin. Classic propaganda.

    Will the mainstream news play along?

    You know, Fox News will do so. They’ll play their part in the drama called American politics.

    And behind the scenes, the world is dividing up into two camps – a growing one fueled by socialism and a declining one fueled by capitalism, oligarchy, and war.

  2. “These efforts certainly do “empower” a subset of racist and homophobic parents. They don’t empower the majority of parents who want their children to learn about–and learn from– accurate American history.”

    As long as Republicans are in control of primarily southern states at this time, the odds of losing all historical facts in their history books will be the fact of their administrations. Will the fact of their historical administrations be lost as they move closer to sovereignty control over the majority of their own residents who seek the truth? It is racially based FOLLOW THE MONEY which was the basis of the Civil War; the Republican Reconstruction of the south was actually the deconstruction of the lives of that era’s majority who had never owned slaves. The wealthy plantation owners created and supported the Confederacy to maintain their living standards.

    “The culture war that conservatives are currently waging over education is, like the culture wars in other areas of American society, a cover for a more material and ideological agenda.”

  3. We will soon see governance by the least able among us. We need a new and better name for it. I’m going to start with dumbocracy or jordanocracy or, perhaps, greeneocracy! All suggestions will be considered.

  4. Peggy suggested some alternate names for the prevailing philosophy today. How about DeSantocracy?

  5. Peggy. The least able are not capable of governance, only of looting from the most able. This guarantees their eventual downfall. But they can cause a lot of damage before they collapse. How about parasitocracy?

  6. Would that “heckler’s veto” apply in a private school if used by a parent paying for that private education with tax money?

  7. So long as they do not allow parents the right to select their trans child’s healthcare, they absolutely have no place to say they support parental rights.

  8. Republicans have nothing other than trying to codify hate, bigotry and divisiveness. They have NO intention of governing, so they are left with the lowest possible denominator. They appeal to the worst of white peoples’ instincts… and nothing more.

    We have batted this ball around the room for years, but the only thing that changes is the Republicans go lower, become me “base” and lie more often than ever before. They are a failing political entity and, in their abject desperation, are flailing by appealing the most willfully ignorant segment of our population. BUT that disgusting minority votes at the rate of over 90%!

    Meanwhile, rational people continue to clutch their pearls and wring their hands instead of confronting the machinery of lies, aka the GOP. Why do those rational people stay home on election day? Is it because the stinking slime of the Republican politics disgusts them so? Well, guess what. THAT’S THE POINT OF THE REPUBLICAN STRATEGY.

    Until those rational people get off their asses and vote at over 75%, this vile wretchedness will continue until we truly become a fascist state.

  9. I imagine a history instructor setting up a Saturday morning class about the topics not covered in those classes restricted by the new law. Students wanting to do well on SATs might flock to the course, even paying a small fee to learn accurate US History material.

  10. Per Vernon: “Meanwhile, rational people continue to clutch their pearls and wring their hands instead of confronting the machinery of lies, aka the GOP. Why do those rational people stay home on election day? Is it because the stinking slime of the Republican politics disgusts them so? Well, guess what. THAT’S THE POINT OF THE REPUBLICAN STRATEGY.”

    There is more to “stay at homeism”:
    – DEMs are also in control of the various moneyed “institutions” – MIC, HCIC, FFIC and their lobbyists.
    – The ones who fell for “Change” with Obama and saw little say “fool me once”…
    – The ones 40 and under have given up on most institutions and are too busy being “amused to death”

  11. Lester. Google influential people under 30 and start following links. You will find a lot of inspirational, powerful and entrepreneurial young people.

  12. Sharon – WADR – the majority of them use their “power” to build their “brand”/make money. “Inspiration” is not on the ballot…

  13. A canary sang out over the weekend in Finland’s election:

    “With all of the votes counted on Sunday, the rightwing National Coalition party (NCP) won 20.8%, with the populist, nation-first Finns party achieving 20.1%. Marin’s SDP [center/left] took 19.9% on a voter turnout of 71.9%.”

    That’s nearly 2/1 to the Right in “socialist” Finland.

  14. Dictators always use cover to attain their thrones. Hitler never said back me in my quest for dictatorship. He instead used French reparations, the Treaty of Versailles, Jews, and assorted other ills both real and supposed to attain sole power in Germany, and we all know the result.

    Ron DeFascist is using the cover of “parental rights” and “don’t teach this or that about history to children” because we don’t want our children to be oppressed or fearful etc. , and in furtherance of such Mr. Clean environment, we are to ignore the First Amendment in even what we can say, thus cementing our ignorance of history for the future. Only the good stuff can be discussed, and Ron will tell you what’s good, not that jailed liberal librarian.

    Apparently DeFascist wants us to live in some fairyland of cute little girls skipping down the sidewalk with their Easter baskets in their Easter outfits who are oblivious to the grim realities of history (e.g., our expansion west involving thefts of land from indigenous people and Mexico, slavery, a recent attempt by Trump to overthrow our government, concentration camps etc. The list is long.

    My point is that “parental rights” is not in DeFascist’s playbook; that is merely his cover for seizure of all power – his Treaty of Versailles front. Children need to know about slavery, wars, famines, dictatorships, and other human blights in the hope that as mature citizens they will avoid a repitition of such tragedies under the guise of policy proposed by a Hitler or DeFascist.

  15. Bill Poppen – Trouble is, such instructor would be jailed. He or she could join First Amendment librarians for having committed such a heinous crime.

  16. Any parents who don’t want their children educated fully can school them at home. It’s legal in Indiana. Let the other children learn history and gender identities in the the public schools.

  17. if the student,s havent had their media window curtained by the odd folks at home theres always discovery and discussion between like minded ages. its still available and the issue maybe then what integrity its has. being the schools have failed in discovery of fake and non sense and lies in the scocial media/web site world. theres always been a way around the so called safe site mommy dam. if the state and its lackies vote to imperil a minds choice and life time knowlege for,the gain state glory to protect its young by denying a full broad education,that state should allow a voucher to a school,that overrides the bullshit safetynet the state schools denys others. if the tax dollars are supplying a curtain to block a mind out of reality,wheres the counter?. the state must supply. if church and state mingle to a point that the future holds deciet and a fairy tale enviroment (corrupt)to the future gens that will soon inhabit the law makers seat in near future,how will they be duly informed of making any laws? seems the church has stepped outta line here. its prey is a lawmaker who is a hypocrite and only looking for more power to convince others to follow some long ago dark ages script and book of poor and rich,power and surfdom and denial of rights by the choice of a person over a democratically written law of protection. all this amounts to a removal of rights we believe was granted by our forefathers. and like any text,and theology,can be interpeted as whatever one believes. im sure most republicans in office believe in freedom,unfortunatly,todays republicans party only sees power and class warfare as a viable goverment over right and wrong and 200 years plus of a constitution we have lived free under,until reagan and the following bilge weve been handed by the republicans and the rich. there were others but when we busted the rich from power,and gave the working class (the majority)the means to enjoy this country,only then we had started a free society above power and todays deciet. we are allowing the rich to become the head of church,as we see the use and propaganda they both deny. propaganda in the hands of these monarchs have become the norm,as we just sit and watch it darken our world. religion is a basis for ruling. that should be a sign of how its become a weapon.

  18. It’s called kakistocracy: government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state.

  19. Leanne:
    good point,but how can that person walk into life without the known conflicts of growing up in a big world.

  20. Re: Finland and other democratic-socialist states, the citizens are sick of having their culture and their prosperous, peaceful nations packed with immigrants, often refugees, who frequently bring their own less civilized cultural and religious ideas, along with a significant amount of crime and other social problems.

    This is NOT politically correct to say in leftist circles, but those citizens have legitimate complaints and are voting as they do because of the actual problems their leaders have caused. Regardless of how high-minded and loving the intentions, a country can not absorb unlimited outside influences without changing in fundamental ways. If you lived in such a country, many of which have been rated as among the best run and happiest on Earth, you would also be upset that your leaders have chosen to dilute your culture.

    Democrats seem lost on this topic, unable to admit that immigration can indeed be a problem and should be managed carefully, and as a result they cede the issue to right wing populists who constantly use it to gain and maintain power. This is a major threat to our nation (much more so than the immigration itself, which in our case is generally far healthier).

  21. And yet Finland was recently selected as the nation with the happiest people. Imagine that.

    Meanwhile the USA finished in the second ten. So much for being entertained to death.

  22. All the supposed reasons given for the assault on education are bogus, euphemistic sleights of hand, or word, actually.
    No, JoAnn, socialism is not growing, nor do we have it here, despite the propaganda of the right. Don’t let them “Frame
    the argument.”
    There is no general “empowering” of anybody but the fools who are afraid of empirical reality.

    Changing the subject…in the vein of Johnathan Swift, we ought to applaud the NRA, and the gun lobby, for their
    continuing slaughter of children, here, as the dead children will not be able to go on to add to the overpopulation
    crisis in the world. (Snark)

  23. What’s next? “My child will never use algebra or chemistry, so I don’t want him to waste his time on those either. And Shakespeare? Why does he need to read that?” I like Jane’s point. If parents don’t have the right to determine their child’s health care, why do they have the right to determine what teachers teach?

  24. Remember Lindsay Graham. He appeared to be on the right track until somebody said something to him in an airport.

  25. Over it. Kakistocracy doesn’t capture the vitriol. These people aren’t just stupid, they’re mean and stupid.

Comments are closed.