May 14, 2021

Lindsay Kee, ACLU-TN, (615) 320-7142

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent a letter today to Governor Bill Lee urging him to veto legislation that would censor academic discussions about American history, race, and gender in Tennessee public-school classrooms.

SB 623 outlines a series of 14 “concepts” that cannot be taught in the classroom, including that “this state or the United States is fundamentally… racist or sexist.” The bill also requires “impartial” instruction on our nation’s history of racial oppression. If teachers violate this vague requirement, intentionally or not, they risk the state withholding funding to their schools.

“This dangerous bill seeks to silence important conversations about race and gender equity in our classrooms,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee executive director. “Students are the next generation of leaders who will move us through the journey to a more just and inclusive democracy. We cannot rob them of the requisite historical knowledge for eradicating systemic racism. The more Tennessee students learn about our painful history and the lessons it can teach us, the better prepared they will be to tackle the inequities and injustices present in our communities. We call on Governor Lee to veto this shortsighted, overreaching legislation.”

The letter sent today states that SB 623’s “vague prohibitions constitute government overreach and censorship that will chill speech and critical discourse in our classrooms. Moreover, it seeks to erase America’s complex and painful history of racism and oppression, which still impacts our country, our institutions, and our culture.” The letter calls on Governor Lee to veto this legislation.

“Let’s be clear: systemic racial injustice exists in Tennessee. It's led to long-term inequalities in educational outcomes, incarceration rates, economic advancement and health outcomes,” said Brandon Tucker, ACLU of Tennessee policy director. “In order for us to move forward as a state and address these important issues, we must first tell the truth and acknowledge them. That starts with Governor Lee vetoing this bill and ensuring that Tennessee students can learn our full history – the good, the bad and the ugly. We cannot ignore it.”

The letter is available at: