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TN bill that would prevent teaching impact of racism in classrooms signed by Governor into law

The law bars teachers from giving lessons that discuss the impact of racism, social privilege, or critique meritocratic systems.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that prevents Tennessee teachers from educating students about the impact of racism, critiques of meritocracies, how some people could be economically and socially privileged compared to ethnic minorities and other kinds of lessons was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee on April 8.

The bill passed the state House with 66 lawmakers voting for it, and 24 voting against it on March 7. A list of topics the bill would ban from the classroom is available below:

  • That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
  • That a person, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive — whether consciously or subconsciously
  • That a person should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or sex
  • That a person's moral character is determined by their race or sex
  • That a person, by virtue of their race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
  • That a person should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress because of their race or sex
  • That a meritocracy is inherently racist, sexist or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex
  • That Tennessee or the U.S. is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist
  • Promoting or advocating "the violent overthrow of the U.S. government"
  • Promoting "division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people"
  • Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges or beliefs to a race or sex, or to a person because of their race or sex
  • That the rule of law does not exist but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups
  • That "all Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
  • That governments should deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the law

The lessons mirror a list introduced by an Anderson County lawmaker in 2021 as part of a bill that allows state leaders to withhold funding for schools that teach those topics. Governor Bill Lee signed that bill into law the same year.

However, H.B. 2670 also says teachers cannot teach anything that "includes race or sex stereotyping" or "race or sex scapegoating."

The bill defines scapegoats as assigning fault or bias to people of a particular race or sex. It also says scapegoating includes claims that people, consciously or unconsciously, are inherently racists or may contribute to the oppression of others.

It defines stereotypes as assigning traits, values, moral codes, privileges, status or beliefs to a person because of their race or sex.

H.B. 2670 is sponsored by Speaker Cameron Sexton (R - Crossville) and goes on to place new restrictions on higher education institutions. It says students and employees cannot face penalizations for "refusing to support, believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon or otherwise assent" to any of the listed topics.

Many of the topics are studied by academics in fields like sociology, which examines how power and wealth are exchanged between groups across society.

The bill goes on to prohibit people from being required to endorse one of the topics for hiring, tenure or graduation. It also specifies higher education institutions cannot ask about the political viewpoints of job candidates or students.

It also says colleges cannot conduct mandatory training if the training includes any of the listed topics.

Colleges also will not be able to use funds from the state to fund programs that encourage faculty to incorporate the topics into their lessons. If they hire a diversity officer, colleges must also require them to "strengthen and increase intellectual diversity among the students and faculty."

The bill says that the listed topics "exacerbate and inflame divisions" and said they are contrary "to the united of the United States of America and the well-being of this state and its citizens."

An amendment to the law also requires higher education institutions to investigate complaints that the law was violated. It will need to investigate those complaints within 10 days of receiving them, and allows the institution to fire employees if it finds they violate the law more than once. 

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