Monday, August 15, 2022

Colleges face legal risks under ‘divisive concept’ bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. ( Associated Press) — Tennessee’s Republican-controlled House on Monday advanced legislation allowing students and staffers to sue public colleges and universities if they feel they’ve been unfairly punished for not accepting “divisive concepts.”

the billsupported by House Speaker Cameron Sexton and other top House legislative leaders, is part of the long slate of bills Republicans have introduced this year targeting what concepts and issues should be addressed in Tennessee’s education system. This latest bill would prohibit public colleges and universities from punishing students and staffers if they do not agree with certain ideas and open them up to lawsuits if they violate the measure.

“A lot of bad things happen. A lot of laws were passed in this chamber and many other chambers across this nation in the ’40s and ’50s that we ought to be ashamed of. If those things get taught in a classroom is that OK in this bill?” asked Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell from Nashville.

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“This bill does not stifle any of that free exchange of ideas and debate and discussion in the classroom,” said Republican Rep. Ron Gant from Rossville, adding that the legislation was not intended to rewrite history.

When pressed by reporters last month, Sexton declined to give a specific example of a student or staffer who had been harmed for disagreeing with a particular controversial topic. Instead, Sexton said the bill was needed so that the state could be “proactive” after hearing about incidents across the country.

The bill still must clear the Senate before it can head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for approval. It is unknown if the fellow GOP-controlled chamber will adopt the same version or attempt to approve a separate version.

The legislation is also one of numerous Republican proposals across the nation pushing back against critical race theory, an academic framework that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions.

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Last year, Republican lawmakers and Lee approved legislation banning public schools from teaching certain concepts of race and racism. Penalties included teachers risking losing valuable state funding for violating the law.

The bill’s actual text makes no mention of critical race theory.

The House’s version of the bill identifies more than 15 “divisive concepts,” ranging from declaring that “one race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex” to “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously” to “this state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”

If enacted, those who feel the law has been violated “may pursue all equitable or legal remedies that may be available to the individual” in court, the bill states.”

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