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Liberal groups angry with SC pols over order to teach Constitution

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Students walk at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON

The South Carolina legislature has rankled liberal groups after requiring that a pair of public schools use state funds to teach the U.S. Constitution and other founding documents -- on the heels of a budget fight over gay-themed books in the curriculum. 

State House lawmakers previously had cut funds from two public universities in retaliation for required-reading material containing homosexual themes. A revised budget passed by both the House and the Senate earlier this month, though, restored the money -- but dictated that exact amount be spent "for instruction in the provisions and principles of the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers, including the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals." 

The bill restored at least $52,000 for the College of Charleston, and at least $17,000 for USC-Upstate, which were the original amounts cut back in March. The legislation also says that any school that conducts a mandatory reading program must provide an alternative in case the chosen book conflicts with any students’ moral or religious beliefs. 

Gov. Nikki Haley went along with the Constitution requirement on Thursday, saying she did not agree with it but kept it in because lawmakers spent so much time on the bill. She said her office "didn't want to interject ourselves into that."

"I don't believe legislators should micromanage our boards," she said, according to The Associated Press. "They elect board members, so if they want to beat up on them, go for it... but to go in there and micromanage books being read, I think that's out of our purview."

The supposed compromise didn't satisfy the schools' defenders. 

The National Coalition Against Censorship, ACLU of South Carolina and other groups said in a statement earlier this week that the new bill is a “symbolic penalty” that is just as troubling as the House’s original proposal.

“It represents unwarranted political interference with academic freedom and undermines the integrity of the higher education system in South Carolina,” the groups said.

The College of Charleston did not respond to a request for comment from FoxNews.com, but the school’s president said when the cuts were first proposed that the school has the right to introduce controversial ideas to students.

The fight arose after the schools required some students to read novels with gay themes.

The College of Charleston’s program selects one book a year for the entire campus to read, which this year was Alison Bechdel's “Fun Home,” a memoir about the author growing up as a lesbian in rural Pennsylvania. USC-Upstate’s program has first-year writing students all read the same book, which this year was “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” a compilation of stories shared on South Carolina’s first radio station for gays and lesbians.

Republican state Rep. Garry Smith, who introduced the cuts in the House, told FoxNews.com in March he received complaints from constituents who have children at both schools. He said when they or their students objected to the books' content, they were told they could not read an alternative book.

“I appreciate the issue of freedom and academic freedom and very much support that, but in this case it was very irresponsibly exercised,” he said.

Democratic Rep. James Smith introduced amendments to reverse the cuts in the House, but both failed. Smith told FoxNews.com on Tuesday that he still considers the amended budget a victory for academic freedom.

“It took a lot more effort than it should have, but we feel vindicated,” he said.

Smith said he believes the amendment requiring Constitution lessons was added so Republican lawmakers can claim victory in the fight.

“The reality is some of my colleagues need a lesson on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” he said.