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South Carolina lawmakers advance college cuts for promoting gay-themed books

South Carolina lawmakers moved to cut funding for two public universities because they assigned gay-themed books.
A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag. (Photo by Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters)
A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag.

Money can’t buy you love, but that doesn’t mean love -- if it’s between two people of the same sex -- can’t cost you money.

That’s the lesson two public universities in South Carolina learned this week when state lawmakers moved to cut funding in response to the schools’ promotion of gay-themed literature.

Last summer, the College of Charleston included in its “College Reads!” program a memoir titled "Fun Home,” in which the author writes about growing up with a closeted father as well as coming out as a lesbian herself. Meanwhile, the University of South Carolina Upstate assigned the book “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” which tells the story of South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian show on the airwaves.

After receiving an email from a concerned parent whose daughter was attending the College of Charleston, Republican state Rep. Garry Smith proposed to cut what the universities spent on the books -- $52,000 for the College of Charleston, and $17,142 for USC Upstate.

Smith told CNN he was “trying to hold the university accountable.”

"I think the university has to be reasonable and sensible to the feelings and beliefs of their students,” he said. “That was totally ignored here.”

Both schools maintain that they were not forcing the reading material on anyone.

“The College of Charleston has never required students to read the books in the College Reads program,” said Michael Robertson, spokesman for the school, in an email to the Post and Courier. "If students were opposed to the book, they were not forced to read it. If the course they were taking required them to read the book, they had the opportunity to drop out of that class and enter another class that did not have that requirement. At no time did the College of Charleston inform students that they were required to read the College Reads book."

USC Upstate has also noted that students could choose to take English 101, for which “Out Loud” was assigned, in a different year with a different book, according to CNN.

The cuts, included in the 2014-2015 state budget, cleared the Higher Education subcommittee and the House Ways & Means committee last week, before heading to the full chamber for debate. There, the Republican-controlled House rejected four separate attempts to put the money back into the universities’ budgets. Even though the proposed cuts amount to a small percentage of the school’s overall funding, they still took up most of Monday’s floor discussion. The House is expected to vote on the budget later this week.

“Are we saying we don’t trust the college students enough to expose them to something they may not have seen before? We can’t let you read anything other than what we believe?” asked Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, according to the Associated Press.  “What about the notion of freedom to have different views? Isn’t this what we go all over the globe fighting for?”

Lawmakers did not go so far as to withhold $1 million from all public colleges in the state unless they both banned “pornographic content” in the classroom and implemented required courses on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights -- an amendment that was also part of the budget package. Republican Rep. Mac Toole, the amendment’s sponsor, withdrew his provision on Tuesday,The State newspaper reported, though he said he did not see any irony in sponsoring an amendment that called for teaching the Constitution while simultaneously censoring content.

"Anybody who supports pornography in an education process has got to have a sick mind," he said.