Alabama Legislature Passes Extensive Bill Targeting DEI

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Government Building

Alabama’s Republican-majority legislature pushed forward a bill targeting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) programs across public higher education institutions on Tuesday.

If approved by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, the legislation will take effect on October 1, 2024.

SB 129 would prevent local public school boards and universities from operating DEI offices and would ban students, employees, and contractors from requirements to attend any DEI training, orientation, or classroom assignments that require approval of “a divisive concept.” 

Laid out in the legislation, this includes notions that a person is “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past” and that individuals “accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize” based on their race, religion, gender, or background, according to the legislative text.

The bill also targets inclusive bathrooms, requiring universities to “designate restrooms on the basis of biological sex,” defined in the law as the gender stated on one’s birth certificate.

All state agencies and political subdivisions, including the local school board and public higher education institutions, could pursue disciplinary action, including termination against employees, if they knowingly break the law.

Students and staff, however, are not prohibited from hosting DEI programs, as long as they do not use state funds. The text also says that the bill should not prevent the teaching of topics in a historically accurate context.

Individuals opposing the bill argue that it will, however, censor history. PEN America warned last month that the state is poised to pass the “most pernicious educational gag order” impacting higher education since Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, resulting in campus environments “devoid of intellectual freedom.”

Leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama have also spoken out against the bill.

“This is not only a form of classroom censorship, it’s an anti-truth bill which curtails an education on systemic inequities, racial violence, and the historic efforts to gain civil rights and civil liberties for marginalized communities throughout our nation’s history,” the ACLU said in a statement on their website. 

“The First Amendment protects the right to share ideas, including the right of listeners to receive information and knowledge. We must protect this right, including educators and students’ rights to talk and learn about race and gender in schools.”