(New York, NY) — In the past month, the Trump administration has issued multiple directives aimed at dictating how education, training, and discussions about race, racism and discrimination can be pursued by the federal government. This includes a government-wide directive from the Office of Management and Budget on September 4 concerning executive departments and agencies; an internal review in the Department of Education of diversity training contracts and internal employee activities, including book clubs; a threat to terminate federal funding from public schools that teach material from The New York Times’s 1619 project; a plan to create a new commission to teach “patriotic education” and a “pro-American curriculum”; and an executive order on combatting race and sex stereotyping, issued on September 22, which extends its prohibitions to federal contractors. These efforts have been explicitly framed as an effort to quash discussion of ideas from the academic field of “critical race theory” by the federal government. 

“These actions are a naked attempt by the president to score political points with his base,” said Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs at PEN America. “But regardless of the stated rationale or the politics involved, this is an effort at censorship that will constrict the space for learning, inquiry, and open exchange. At a time when conversations about the legacy and persistence of racism and inequality are urgent in our society, it is alarming that the government would take the extreme step of banning discussions of these issues within the government itself. It is even more concerning that this administration has gone to these lengths to control what people read, consider, or discuss when it comes to understanding and fighting racism, when the president himself has used and amplified racist rhetoric. Coupled with attempts to ban the use of the 1619 Project in school curricula and a proposal to introduce ‘patriotic education,’ this latest EO feels all too similar to authoritarian traditions of shaping ‘acceptable’ thought.”

“The president and others in this administration tout their commitments and convictions regarding free speech,” PEN America’s Lopez continued, “yet turn around and decree what perspectives or even phrases can be taught and discussed in personnel trainings, employee book clubs, or even in programs run by government contractors. While government employees do face greater limits on their free speech rights than the average American, we should not pretend this is anything other than an attempt to stifle legitimate debate, academic inquiry, and the right to unfettered intellectual exploration that anchors our democracy.”