About 200 people gathered Saturday afternoon to protest language in the state budget that would prohibit teaching or training on a list of “divisive concepts” in schools and government workplaces.
A standalone bill failed earlier this year, but similar language was added to the state budget bill. Proponents say the bill does not stop teachers from teaching about racism or stop workplaces from training employees about diversity.
But critics of the legislation gathered Saturday said the legislation could very well cut off those discussions and trainings and is an affront to free speech.
A group carried a mock casket around the State House on Saturday afternoon, signifying what they saw as the death of free speech.
“It looks like a great thing, but if you really analyze it, it denies history,” said Lidia Yen of the legislation. She and other demonstrators worried the bill would push teachers to sugarcoat the darkest chapters of American history and leave students unprepared to deal with racism and other prejudice in the world.
Talking about a person’s own implicit or inherent biases can be uncomfortable, but for Lilly Tague-Bleau, a Manchester Central High School student and president of the New Hampshire High School Democrats, having these biases pointed out should be an opportunity for growth.
Tague-Bleau said she worries the bill could cut off such discussions in schools.
“I’m concerned about an unwillingness to engage in conversations,” said Alisa Barnard, of Concord. She said she thought tough discussions about race, gender and disability are essential to teaching.
“Those can be some of the most important conversations that help you understand your classmates,” said Barnard’s daughter, Rebecca Barnard, 14.
Several protesters said they worried about how this “divisive concepts” bill would chill speech while doing nothing to protect minorities.
“This is the new red scare. This is the new cultural war,” said Asma Elhuni, of progressive activist group Rights and Democracy. “This is not how you build a functioning multiracial democracy.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Asma Elhuni.