The Volokh Conspiracy

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Critical Race Theory

The Pennsylvania Anti-CRT Bill

Sloppy legislation will lead to unintended consequences that damage academic freedom and good education


I have a short piece today in the Washington Post on the latest missteps in state legislative efforts to root out critical race theory. This bill is under consideration in Pennsylvania and is particularly problematic.

I have previously written about the trouble these bills pose for academic freedom when they are applied to universities. The Pennsylvania bill applies directly to the universities that receive state funding, and it adds new language that would prohibit instructors from assigning readings that espouse, prohibit universities from publishing writings that promote, and prohibit universities from providing a venue for speakers who advocate anything on a list of disfavored concepts. The language is sweeping and likely unconstitutional, and it would hamper educators (like me!) who have no sympathy with critical race theory but who do expect students to understand and grapple with difficult and even dangerous ideas.

From the new piece:

Consider, too, what it would mean to take seriously the idea that no assigned texts may "espouse" racist views. The bill could make it unlawful for instructors to assign their students to read certain writings of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln, to read works of literature by Mark Twain or William Faulkner. It would make it unlawful to read certain opinions by the Supreme Court (such as Dred Scott (1857), which held that Black Americans could not be full citizens) or laws passed by American legislatures (such as the post-Civil War "Black Codes" that spurred the adoption of the 14th Amendment). The bill would prohibit professors from assigning students to read the arguments made by politicians and polemicists across U.S. history defending slavery, advocating for Southern secession or encouraging racial segregation. It would shield students from confronting the historical reality of debates about race in America and, as a consequence, would impede their ability to understand the struggles that we have had and the progress that we have made.

Read the whole thing here.