Alabama passes ‘divisive concept’ bill

Published 10:05 am Saturday, March 30, 2024

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On March 23, the governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, signed bill SB129, also called the ‘divisive concepts’ bill into law. The law, which will go into effect on Oct. 1 of this year, will prohibit educators or employees from “directing or compelling a student, employee or contractor to personally affirm, adopt or adhere to a divisive concept,” states the adopted bill.  

The bill defines the term “divisive concepts” as any of the following:

  1. That any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.
  2. That individuals should be discriminated against adversely because of their race, color, religion, ethnicity or national origin. 
  3. That the moral character of an individual is determined by his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin. 
  4. That, by virtue of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin, the individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously. 
  5. That individuals, by virtue of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin. 
  6. That fault, blame or bias should be assigned to members of a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.
  7.  That any individual should accept, acknowledge, affirm or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin. 
  8. That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist. 

One concept was taken out of the bill after debate, according to reporting by The concept was “that slavery and racism are aligned with the founding principles of the United States.” That concept will not fall under the term ‘divisive concept.’

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“My administration has and will continue to value Alabama’s rich diversity, however, I refuse to allow a few bad actors on college campuses – or wherever else for that matter – to go under the acronym of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), using taxpayer funds to push their liberal political movement counter to what the majority of Alabamians believe,” Ivey said in a statement.

The bill’s language does not say that the concepts can not be taught, but prohibits, “direct[ing] or compel[ing]” students and employees to “personally affirm, adopt or adhere” the concepts. 

It also states that employees and contractors can be terminated if they violate the act.

Critics of the bill, including educators, some politicians and college students, argue the bill will halt discourse around topics of race, sex, religion and sexuality. The ACLU of Alabama said the bill “seeks to characterize these discussions and accurate teachings, assignments and training that also supplement them as ‘divisive.’”   

The law also prohibits using state funding for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs at public universities and entities across the state. The law defines a DEI program as a program or event where, “participation is based on an individual’s race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity or national origin.” 

Another provision of the bill is requiring public universities to ensure individuals use bathrooms according to their sex assigned at birth. The bill is not clear on how this would be enforced. 

Both Chambers County representatives in the House and Senate, Debbie Wood and Randy Price voted to adopt the bill. Wood voiced her support for the law when talking with the VTN.

“It basically says that you can’t spend state or local dollars to teach someone that they’re different than the other. Because what we should be doing is teaching each other that we’re all people and that you know, we’re all born the same way,” Wood said. 

In an op-ed in the Alabama Reflector, the former president of Tuskegee University, Lily D. McNair, voiced some of her concerns with the bill. 

“Alabama should not be considering passage of one of the most repressive educational gag orders in the country. College should be a time to explore and debate ideas. Professors must be free to teach controversial issues from a variety of perspectives, and students must be free to engage with complex topics and diverse opinions,” McNair wrote. “Learning to evaluate evidence and weigh competing perspectives is core to the mission of higher education.”

The former president of the HBCU adds that her concern is that HBCUs would be defined as a DEI program, based on the bill’s definition, and defunded.