Critical race theory bans threaten free speech, advocacy group says
Governments and school boards have wide latitude to establish curricula in public schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12, where courts have generally held that teachers do not have the same degree of academic freedom. than those of universities. But many of these bills, PEN argues, are worded so vaguely that they can chill a wide range of rhetoric.
“This overbreadth and ambiguity is why they are so alarming,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of freedom of expression and education at PEN. “The truth is, most administrators and general councilors will quickly say, ‘let’s not run into this. “”
Erwin Chemerinsky, a First Amendment expert and dean of the University of California, Berkeley Law School, who previewed the report, agreed. “Whenever the government regulates speech, it needs to be clear about what is prohibited and what is allowed,” he said. “These laws are so vague in their wording that a teacher cannot tell.”
According to PEN, nine bills specifically target critical race theory. Eleven bills explicitly ban classes based on Project 1619, a New York Times Magazine initiative exploring the history and continuing legacy of slavery that has been adapted into a classroom curriculum.
So far, according to the PEN tally, 11 bills have become law, in nine states, sometimes within days of their introduction. Another 18 are awaiting the 2021 legislative session, and six more have already been drafted for consideration for 2022.
Many bills, according to PEN, include language that purports to affirm freedom of speech and thought. Ten bills prohibit schools or teachers from “forcing” a person to assert belief in a “concept that divides”, while eight impose “balanced” teaching of “controversial” subjects. (In Texas, such a law recently led a school official last month to suggest that educators who teach about the Holocaust should make sure they have books that offer “opposing” views.)