Young Ways & Means

Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, presents proposed legislation to the House Ways & Means Committee on education on Monday, April 19, 2021.

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The House Ways & Means Committee has voted 4-3, split along party lines, to introduce a new bill regarding teaching “critical race theory” or related concepts in Idaho public schools or universities, this one defining such teaching as “sectarianism” and saying it’s therefore prohibited by the Idaho Constitution. The Idaho Constitution, in Article IX, Section 5, prohibits any public funds from being used “in aid of any church or sectarian or religious society, or for any sectarian or religious purpose.”

The bill, proposed by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, states, “The Idaho Legislature finds that tenets of sectarianism, such as ‘critical race theory,’ … exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.”

The bill also would forbid advocating for three principles, or using any educational materials advocating them, in Idaho schools or colleges. The three principles:

• “That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is inherently superior or inferior”

• “That individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin”

• “That individuals, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin.”

Young told the committee, “The purpose of this legislation is to provide for dignity and non-discrimination in public education, and to establish fiscal policy relative to sectarian tenets. This particular piece of policy has had input from members on both sides of the rotunda, and is a combination of language from both the House and the Senate as well as our state Constitution.”

Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, immediately moved to introduce the bill.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, asked Young a question. “I’m looking at Page 2, line 3, where it says no educational materials advocating sectarianism shall be used or introduced in any institution of higher education. Does that mean they may not even be discussed for purposes of explaining why they may be wrong? … How are history teachers, for example, to address such materials that played a critical role in history if they can’t be used in any way or even discussed?”

Young responded, “I would prefer not to dive too deeply into this since this is a print hearing, however I will refer you to Article 9, Section 6 of the Idaho Constitution.” That section says, in full:

“RELIGIOUS TEST AND TEACHING IN SCHOOL PROHIBITED. No religious test or qualification shall ever be required of any person as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, either as teacher or student; and no teacher or student of any such institution shall ever be required to attend or participate in any religious service whatever. No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools, nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color. No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article, nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school moneys in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.”

Rubel said, “This seems like it would put really undue restrictions on what can be discussed and what can be read in classrooms, to the point that I don’t honestly know how professors or teachers could operate in a meaningful manner. And so for that reason, for an undue restraint on speech and academic freedom, I’m going to be voting no.”

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, speaking in support of the bill, said, “When we define sectarianism there, it says it means a form of prejudice, discrimination, or hatred arising from attaching relations of inferiority and superiority to differences in a group. So that’s what you can’t do. And in (d) up above, line 3, it says no educational materials ‘advocating’ for those things shall be used, so I think it’s fair language there. We’re not going to use language or materials that advocate for discrimination or hatred. So I’m good with the motion and I’m happy to see it move forward.”

The bill appears to create a class of banned books in Idaho universities, including primary historical documents detailing the history of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, including documents from the organization itself or its leaders or adherents; books by major historical figures such as Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf;” and other works written throughout history by those who have advanced the philosophies of hate-based movements, even for use in studying their history, causes or prevention.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said after the meeting that the bill likely will be referred to a germane committee, such as the House Education Committee, for a full hearing.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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