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California state Sen. Melissa Melendez, a Republican, said the legislation is necessary to ensure free speech.
Citing a “climate of intolerance,” a California state lawmaker wants to fight “cancel culture” by making political affiliation a protected class.
The Diversity of Thought Act, introduced last week, would add political affiliation as a “protected characteristic” in California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act, similar to the anti-discrimination protections offered to people based on their race, religion, physical disabilities or gender identity. The legislation, packaged with a separate bill that would require schools to investigate bullying on the basis of political affiliation, is designed to “protect against cancel culture discrimination,” according to state Sen. Melissa Melendez, the measure’s sponsor.
“It is unfathomable to me that corporations and members of the public would ruin a person’s career, business and family because of their political ideology,” Melendez, a Republican from Lake Elsinore, said in a statement. “A free society shouldn’t allow thoughts and ideas to be censored. Free speech covers all speech, not just that with which you agree.”
In an interview with Fox News, Melendez said the proposals aren’t designed to protect Republicans specifically, though her motivation for submitting them stemmed directly from what she described as the “harassment and targeting” of conservatives during the Trump administration.
“The last four years have really opened my eyes to what’s going on out there, and how people feel that it’s somehow OK to protect every other class in this country except political class,” she said. “It’s permeating every aspect of our lives, so I felt that putting political affiliation in California’s fair employment and housing act was appropriate.”
The legislation would seek to protect California residents from political discrimination during housing and employment searches as well as when applying for bank loans. But existing state laws—including California’s labor code, civil code and civil rights act—already address most of those scenarios.
State Rep. Lorena Gonzales, a Democrat and a member of the Assembly’s judiciary committee, panned the bill, saying on Twitter that “racist, pro-domestic terrorism, xenophobic, misogynistic views do not warrant protection ‘from discrimination.’”
“Your choice to hate and actively pursue hate does not make you part of a protected class,” she continued.
The bill is currently awaiting a hearing before the judiciary committee. Democrats control both chambers of the California state Legislature by wide margins.
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.