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Scope, Speed of Educational Gag Order Laws Increasing Nationwide

It’s a frightening time to be an educator. As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, our November report, Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Restrictions on the Freedom to Read, Learn, and Teach, documented 54 state-level bills around the country that would stifle teaching and learning about race, sex, gender, and American history in schools, universities, and state agencies. Educators who don’t comply could lose already scarce funding—or their jobs.

And it’s getting worse. In the month since the report’s release, state lawmakers introduced 12 new bills, bringing the total to a staggering 66 educational gag orders for the year in 26 states, 12 of which have passed into law.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • The recent group of bills includes seven in Missouri and one each in New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
  • All 12 of these bills target K–12 schools, four include provisions that would impact colleges and universities, and four include a focus on state agencies, other state-funded institutions, and “places of learning.”
  • Six of these bills specifically ban “critical race theory,” making a total of 20 state-level bills introduced this year with such explicit prohibitions.
  • Six of these bills contain explicit prohibitions against teaching or using curricular materials from “The 1619 Project,” bringing the total of these to 17 for the year.

All of these bills are tracked in our Index.

While disturbing, these developments are not surprising. In recent weeks, these gag orders have grown more sweeping in scope and become law with increasing speed. Two examples from November tell the story.

In South Carolina, two state representatives prefiled a bill called the Freedom from Ideological Coercion and Indoctrination Act. This bill would apply to any entity receiving state funds or that benefits from tax exempt or nonprofit status, including public and private schools and universities, all levels of state government, state contractors, charitable organizations, and many private businesses.

In other words, an enormous number of South Carolinians.

Under the bill, those entities would be prohibited from teaching, endorsing, or compelling the adoption of certain “discriminatory” concepts, including that:

  • “a group or an individual, by virtue of his or her race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, heritage, culture, religion, or political belief is inherently racist, sexist, bigoted, ignorant, biased, fragile, oppressive, or contributive to any oppression, whether consciously or unconsciously;”
  • “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, heritage, culture, religion, or political belief;”
  • “an individual’s moral character, value, or status, whether wholly or partly, is necessarily determined by his or her race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, heritage, culture, religion, or political belief.”

While some of this language is similar to that found in other bills analyzed in our Educational Gag Orders report, South Carolina’s legislation breaks new ground by censoring speech about heritage, culture, religion, and political belief. The implications of this are deeply troubling.

Read entire article at PEN America