Las Vegas treats relics of communism and the Cold War like so many curiosities.
A decapitated statue of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Russian Communist Party, greets patrons of the Red Square restaurant and vodka bar at Mandalay Bay.
The Atomic Testing Museum encapsulates the development of the Cold War’s deadliest weapons.
Urinals at Main Street Station hang on graffiti-smeared sections of the Berlin Wall, once a symbol of the Iron Curtain dividing Western and Eastern Europe.
The Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago, but an archaic Nevada law still stands to protect students from communist indoctrination.
Nevada Revised Statute 391.312 makes it a firing offense for teachers to advocate the overthrow of government by force or “indoctrinate students with a communistic philosophy.”
Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, called the law an “anachronism that needs to be taken off the books and replaced with something less politically charged.”
In pointing out the constraints it puts on teachers, Lichtenstein said they could lose their jobs for quoting Thomas Jefferson, who infamously said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
The law is obscure enough that Stephanie Hartman, a consultant for K-12 social studies for the Nevada Department of Education, was unaware it existed until it was brought to her attention.
Hartman did not think the law posed much of a problem since teachers would only get in trouble for “indoctrinating students,” something they’re not supposed to do anyway.
But federal courts and state courts in California have found similar laws to be unconstitutional, said John Casey, chief of staff for California state Sen. Alan Lowenthal.
In 2008, Lowenthal proposed cleaning up the language of statutes from the Cold War era as a matter of legislative housekeeping. Proposed language changes would have eliminated California laws prohibiting teachers from being communists or promoting communism to students. The ban on using schools for communist meetings also would have been ended.
But the proposed changes turned into a partisan fight, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it, Casey said. In the end, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it.
California Republicans argued that the changes in the law would make communist indoctrination of students legal. Democrats responded that the point was moot since it’s already illegal for teachers to indoctrinate students, Casey said, echoing Hartman.
Nevada adopted its anti-communism education law in 1967 when it approved the criteria for firing and suspending teachers, according to state legislative records.
The minutes and journal from the Legislature don’t show any controversy or much debate over passage of the law. David Wrobel, history department chairman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found it odd that the law was adopted so late in the Cold War. Anti-communism tensions were at their height between 1948 and 1955.
Wrobel suggested the law could have been part of the “Middle America” backlash against 1960s radicalism that also contributed to Republican Richard Nixon’s election as president in 1968.
Matthew Wright, a collections librarian at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, said Nevada, as a small state, often was slow in adopting legislation, with the notable exceptions of those pertaining to divorce and gambling.
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.