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General Assembly strengthens protections against divisive concepts

The General Assembly on Thursday approved legislation that further protects the free expression of students and employees at public universities in Tennessee.

House Bill 1376 allows any student or employee of a public university to file a report of an alleged violation of state’s divisive concepts law. It also requires the institution to investigate the report and take appropriate steps to correct any violation that is found to have occurred.

“The purpose of this bill is to strengthen the prohibition on the divisive concepts… and promote freedom of expression and educational excellence,” said bill sponsor State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. “The impact is to keep colleges about advancing knowledge and not advancing personal, political or social agendas.”

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Divisive concepts are those that exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin and other criteria in ways that are contrary to the unity of the United States of America and the well-being of Tennessee and its citizens.

Violations of the law and any corrective actions taken must be reported annually to the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability. Additionally, the bill requires peaceful and lawful usage of the university’s facilities must be open to all recognized student groups. Student-invited guest speakers may also not be denied based solely on race, religion or nonviolent political ideology. A university may still deny obscene demonstrations or gatherings.

The General Assembly passed legislation last year protecting students and employees at public universities from being forced to believe or embrace divisive concepts. The law also prevents those individuals from being penalized, discriminated against or adversely treated due to their refusal to endorse any of the 15 defined divisive concepts. Public universities are also required to conduct a biennial survey of students and employees to assess the campus climate with regard to diversity of thought and the respondents’ comfort level in speaking freely on campus.  House Bill 1376 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.

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