State Watch

West Virginia GOP introduces bill seeking to prohibit ‘divisive acts’ in schools, workforce

Republican state legislators in West Virginia have filed legislation seeking to prohibit schools, state agencies and any groups that receive state funding from promoting what they call “divisive concepts.”

The bill claims that it aims to prohibit the promotion of what it refers to as “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating” in the workforce and by the state’s education board.

But to achieve such, the bill states that it would seek to ban schools from using a curriculum that promotes “divisive acts,” prohibit “discriminatory ‘divisive acts’ in the workplace,” and block “state funding to agencies who promote ‘divisive acts.’ ”

The bill then goes on to provide a list of concepts it labeled “divisive,” including that the notion that the United States “is fundamentally racist or sexist,” that an “individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” and that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

The bill includes nine “concepts” in total, each of which is a copy and paste of the “divisive concepts” that the Trump administration prohibited in its controversial executive order that took aim at certain diversity training for government workers.

That order, which prompted legal challenges from civil rights groups immediately after it was signed in September, was met with a wave of backlash from federal workers and others who said it amounted to executive overreach.

The order — which also professed to take aim at “race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating” in the federal workforce and sought to bar grant funding “to be used for these purposes” — was swiftly rescinded by President Biden within hours of his inauguration last month.

The action was reversed under a larger executive order Biden signed at the time that was geared toward “beginning the work of embedding equity across federal policymaking and rooting out systemic racism and other barriers to opportunity from federal programs and institutions,” an administration fact sheet stated then. 

The West Virginia bill was filed by state Del. Riley Keaton (R) on Thursday and has three Republican co-sponsors: state Dels. Josh Holstein (R), Trenton Barnhart (R) and Johnnie Wamsley II (R). It has since been referred to the state House’s Workforce Development Committee for consideration.

The legislation has already sparked opposition from ACLU West Virginia, which said the language of the bill would prohibit “important and necessary discussions in workplaces and in curriculum regarding the racial history of the United States, implicit bias, and privilege.”

The legislation also comes as a number of Republican state legislators in multiple states have filed bills in recent weeks going after how race is taught in schools after police brutality toward Black Americans prompted nationwide scrutiny last year following the police killing of George Floyd.

Tags Divisive concepts Joe Biden state law West Virginia

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