Democratic state Sen. Alan Lowenthal is proposing legislation calling for California to drop Cold War-era laws aimed at penalizing individuals who join the Communist Party, saying the provisions are “outdated” and "unconstitutional."
Lowenthal's measure goes before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. It would repeal statutes that allow teachers and other public employees to be fired from their jobs if they are communists.
The courts have long declared such provisions unconstitutional and the legislation seeks only to protect people’s First Amendment rights, Lowenthal told FOXNews.com in an interview Monday. He said membership alone in any party should not cause an individual to lose his or her job,
"Being a member of the Communist Party in and of itself does not mean you advocate the overthrow of the government. It doesn’t mean we agree with them, but they’re not a threat to our survival," he said.
Though Lowenthal said he believes communism no longer threatens the U.S. government’s political well-being, nonetheless, his bill makes clear that one cannot teach communism with “the intent to inculcate a preference for communism.”
“There is literally not one part of this bill that does anything but repeal unconstitutional provisions of law,” added Lowenthal’s chief of staff John Casey. “It does not allow communism back in schools.”
Lowenthal made reference to the case of a University of California professor who was fired from her job in 1969 because of her membership in the Communist Party. Angela Davis, who was imprisoned for her association with Communists, was later acquitted of all charges and rehired by the university after courts ruled her dismissal to be unconstitutional.
But Lowenthal’s bill has sparked controversy among those who say the threat of communism is alive and well. Critics say the legislation will promote communism in public schools.
“At a time when California students are struggling to pass basic exams, Senator Lowenthal is focusing on communism — the very government system responsible for the deaths of an estimated 100 million people since its implementation,” said Meredith Turney, a legislative liaison with the Capitol Resource Family Impact.
“Communism is still a threat to us, and he [Lowenthal] wants to repeal laws that allow schools to fire educators who might be teaching such treason. His bill would actually allow the promotion of communism in California public schools,” Turney told FOXNews.com.
Lowenthal refutes the idea that his bill will encourage young, impressionable students to support a communist regime.
“The argument that we’re promoting communism is a fallacious one,” he said. “My issue is just to protect people and get rid of outdated codes."
“Senator Lowenthal’s bill seems utterly sensible,” added Georgetown University law professor David Cole.
“The Supreme Court long ago ruled that it violates the First Amendment right of association to deny employment — and even security clearances — based on membership in the Communist Party. California should bring its law in line with the Constitution, and bring its legislation into the 21st century. Guilt by association is never justified, but guilt by association with threats that no longer exist is not only unconstitutional, but irrational," Cole said.