Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed a controversial bill Thursday that makes it harder to force schools to change race-based team names and mascots.
In a statement, Walker invoked the First Amendment as an explanation for supporting the bill.
"I am very concerned about the principle of free speech enshrined in our U.S. Constitution," he said. "If the state bans speech that is offensive to some, where does it stop? A person or persons’ right to speak does not end just because what they say or how they say it is offensive. Instead of trying to legislate free speech, a better alternative is to educate people about how certain phrases and symbols that are used as nicknames and mascots are offensive to many of our fellow citizens."
He added, however, that his support for the legislation doesn't mean that he supports the team names.
"If it were up to me personally, I would seek viable alternatives that were not offensive to Native Americans," said Walker.
But Barbara Munson, a spokeswoman with the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, called Walker's decision "egregious" and a "poke in the eye with a sharp stick to all of the tribes and all of our children." Her organization's Indian Mascot and Logo Task Force has compiled a list of schools in Wisconsin that still have race-based names or mascots.
The new law requires that in order to hold a hearing over a mascot name, the equivalent of 10 percent of the student population in a given district must sign a petition within a 120-day period.
Before Walker signed the legislation, any complaint over a team name, logo or mascot could trigger a hearing before the state’s Department of Public Instruction. Democrats voted unanimously against the bill in the state Senate, while all but one of the Republican senators voted for it.