A hurry-up completion of the legislative agenda has included passage of some junk, as you might expect.

The Senate this afternoon approved SB 627 by Sen. Trent Garner to “prohibit the propagation of divisive concepts.”

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This is cookie-cutter right-wing junk tried first in New Hampshire, where it was roundly criticized as unconstitutional. Who will decide what’s divisive as opposed to legitimate disagreement? Trent Garner? His bill is particularly aimed at squelching talk of racism and sexism.

Austin Bailey wrote about this earlier. Trent Garner, who loves to talk about cancel culture and views hate crime law as thought policing, has proposed a bill to do some cancellation. Sen. Linda Chesterfield described it as a direct assault on free speech. Indeed, it’s a national Republican agenda, as noted here.

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With the legislature expected to recess Tuesday, the hope is this bill will die in the House.

And speaking of hope for bills that will die: Another would be a similar bill that is thinly veiled attempt to squelch discussions in school about racial discrimination, Rep. Mark Lowery’s HB 1761. It has passed the House, but if all goes well the Senate Education Committee won’t be able to take it up before recess.

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I’ll let the ADL take the floor on this one:

Today ADL called on the Arkansas Senate Education Committee to reject HB 1761, which would require public schools to teach a whitewashed revisionist history about racism and bigotry in the United States and abroad.  HB 1761 is offensive and dishonest legislation that prohibits teaching any individual is “inherently racist” or there is “systemic racism” in America.  If enacted, this bill would undermine the new Holocaust Education law signed by the Governor this session.

 

Aaron Ahlquist, ADL South Central Regional Director, issued the following statement:

 

“This Bill is an attempt by the majority in the legislature to dictate the teaching of a revisionist history in public schools that ignores the painful reality of racism and bigotry which have shaped the structural inequities that continue to plague the U.S. and the World.

 

From the perspective of a Jewish organization that advocates for the teaching of the Holocaust, this legislation is dangerous. Holocaust education is not just a history lesson about unchecked Antisemitism and racism, but one of the best ways to fight prejudice and discrimination.  Yet, HB 1761 would undermine Holocaust education in Arkansas.  Indeed, it would prohibit teaching that Adolph Hitler was inherently Antisemitic and racist, or that the Nuremburg laws were taken from Jim Crow America.

 

The legislation is fundamentally contradictory. While it requires that teaching about race or ethnicity should employ reason as a guide for “fair and open discourse … in the exchange of ideas and opposing points of view,” it clearly would prohibit a teacher or student talking about systemic racism or inequity in America.  And HB 1761 is so poorly and vaguely written, it undoubtedly will come under First Amendment challenge.

 

In addition to whitewashing public education in Arkansas, HB 1761 must be viewed as part of the majority’s concerted effort this session to enact laws that discriminate against and deny the realities facing marginalized communities in Arkansas.  In the context of multiple overtly anti-LGBTQ+ laws and a sham “hate crime” law that will not “name the hate,” this legislation further fuels the growing impression that Arkansas is intolerant and does not welcome diversity. Ultimately, that message will scare off investment, tourism and the best and brightest that Arkansas needs.

UPDATE: ADL also weighed in on Garner’s bill.