Alabama is poised to pass the most pernicious educational gag order impacting higher education since Florida’s Stop WOKE Act became law – and in some ways, it’s even more restrictive. 

Like many gag orders, SB 129 includes a prohibition on the “divisive concepts” popularized by a Trump executive order in 2020 which ban large swaths of educational speech about race, racism, sex, and American history. The bill would ban faculty from requiring any student to participate in coursework that “advocates for or requires assent to a divisive concept” – essentially a ban on even including such content in a course, an extreme prohibition currently present only in Florida’s currently-stayed Stop WOKE Act among higher ed laws. The bill also edits one of the familiar “divisive concepts,” prohibiting content that contends an “individual should accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to apologize on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

This new language would prohibit assigning readings of essays, books, or films where the author expresses that they feel complicit in past wrongs because of their identity, or historical documents demonstrating historical perspectives on race, gender, or class. This is a more expansive restriction than even Florida’s HB 7 (Stop WOKE), which only prohibits assigning readings advocating for complicity, not merely expressing the author’s experience

Alongside coursework, the bill would prohibit DEI offices and programming that determines participation based on identity group, which could include info sessions for international students or university recognition of the Black Student Union. And should public universities attempt to get around the severe measures in this bill by using federal or private funding, they will find themselves stymied by a clause prohibiting them from procuring any money to fund such activities. 

The result would be a campus environment devoid of intellectual freedom, and a state law so draconian that it gives Florida a run for its money.