Critical race theory bans threaten First Amendment guarantees, free speech group says

Critical race theory bans threaten First Amendment guarantees, free speech group says
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The free speech advocacy group PEN America has published a report arguing that attempts across the United States to ban critical race theory from public schools and workplaces threaten rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. 

PEN America reported that 11 bills targeting the legal theory have been passed in nine states, while what it calls "educational gag orders" are pending in many other states. 

The group argues that bills banning critical race theory are veiled efforts to constrain discussion of U.S. history, suppress certain academic opinions and "impose a particular political diktat on numerous forms of public education."

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"Taken together, these efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content- and viewpoint-based state censorship," the report says. 

Critical race theory is an academic and legal framework that posits that systemic racism plays a role in American history, laws and policies.

The debate over critical race theory was a central feature of Virginia's gubernatorial election last week. Republican candidate Glenn YoungkinGlenn YoungkinWinsome Sears to begin historic new chapter as Virginia lt. governor Five issues that will define the months until the midterms  Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE pledged to ban the theory in schools, and his victory will likely make similar pledges a refrain in many Republican campaigns in next year's midterms. 

PEN America argues the often ambiguously worded bills are likely to disproportionately affect the free speech rights of women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals.

"If the troubling legislative trend these bills represent is not stopped and reversed, the underpinnings of the constitutional right to freedom of speech, and our concomitant freedom of thought, will be weakened," it adds. 

PEN America said it's no coincidence that these campaigns against critical race theory come as the Black Lives Matter movement and protests for racial justice have gained prominence following the police killing of George Floyd. 

"Certain Republican legislators and conservative activists have capitalized on this backlash, borrowing the name of an academic framework — critical race theory (CRT) — and inaccurately applying it to a range of ideas, practices, and materials related to advancing diversity, equity, or inclusion," writes PEN America. 

In an interview with The New York Times, PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said the group was not trying to endorse particular curriculum or lesson plans. 

“We’re not asking people to fall silent in terms of deliberation over how this racial reckoning is transpiring,” she told the Times. “But the speed of the resort to censorship, without any apparent awareness of the contradictions, is part of the broader erosion of free speech in our society.”