Cooper vetoes bill against compelled speech in state government employment, training

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  • Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill designed to ban compelled speech in state government employment and training.
  • Cooper's veto message complained that Senate Bill 364 would "eliminate training that can help us understand the unconscious bias we all bring to our work and our communities."
  • Cooper has vetoed 78 bills since taking office in 2017, including three this year. Lawmakers have voted to override both of the governor's previous vetoes in 2023.

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill designed to prevent compelled speech for people seeking jobs with state government or local community colleges. The bill also would prevent state government agencies from promoting a list of 13 proscribed concepts.

“In North Carolina, the diversity of our people is a strength. This legislation attempts to eliminate training that can help us understand the unconscious bias we all bring to our work and our communities,” Cooper wrote in his veto message for Senate Bill 364. “It is troubling that a legislature that witnessed open racism on the floor of the House of Representatives wants to stop training aimed at creating a more effective and understanding workforce. Instead of pretending that bias and racism don’t exist, the legislature should instead encourage training that can help eliminate discrimination so we can work toward common goals.”

Cooper did not spell out details of the “open racism” he alleged. It’s possible he was referring to an exchange last month between Rep. Jeffrey McNeely, R-Iredell, and Rep. Abe Jones, D-Wake. During a debate about a bill to expand Opportunity Scholarships, McNeely interrupted Jones’ floor speech. McNeely asked Jones whether he believed his admission as a student at Harvard was linked to his race or his status as an athlete. Jones is black.

McNeely later apologized for the question. Republican House leaders stripped him of a leadership position as majority whip.

The House approved S.B. 364 with a party-line 72-46 vote. Every Republican supported it. All voting Democrats opposed it. The Senate approved the measure, 30-15. Three Senate Democrats joined Republicans to approve the bill’s final version.

The bill called on each affected state agency to “refrain from soliciting or requiring an applicant for employment to endorse or opine about beliefs, affiliations, ideals, or principles regarding matters of contemporary political debate or social action as a condition of employment.” Agencies also would be banned from asking job applicants about “actions in support of, or in opposition to” political and social issues.

The bill would not prevent job applicants from speaking voluntarily about political or social issues.

A section of the legislation titled “Dignity in state government workplaces” would ban state government workplaces and training programs from compelling employees to support any of 13 concepts:

*One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.

*An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.

*An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.

*An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.

*An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

*Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.

*A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.

*The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.

*The United States government should be violently overthrown.

*Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex.

*The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.

*All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

*Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

A caveat in the bill explains that the prohibition on compelled speech does not apply to speech protected by the First Amendment.

Cooper has vetoed more bills than all previous N.C. governors combined. His veto of S.B. 364 marks his third veto this year and the 78th veto since he took office in 2017.

Lawmakers have voted to override Cooper 25 times, including both previous bills the governor vetoed this year.