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Gov. Kay Ivey Signs Bill to Limit Public Funds for DEI in Alabama

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey delivers the State of the State address on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 in Montgomery, Ala. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

By | Alabama Reflector

Gov. Kay Ivey Wednesday signed a bill limiting the use of public funds for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and limiting the ability of public employees to discuss so-called “divisive concepts.”

In a statement Wednesday, Ivey wrote that she and her administration valued “Alabama’s rich diversity,” but she wanted to prevent people on college campuses from what she called “their liberal political movement counter to what the majority of Alabamians believe.”

“We have already taken action to prevent this in our K-12 classrooms, and I am pleased to sign SB 129,  to protect our college campuses,” the statement said. “Supporting academic freedom, embracing diversity of cultures and backgrounds and treating people fairly are all key components of what we believe in Alabama, and I am more than confident that will continue.”

The bill would prevent public teachers, along with some other public employees, from compelling others to accept or conform certain “divisive concepts,” including  “the moral character of an individual is determined by his or her race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin” and “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist.”

The bill would also prevent public funds from being used for DEI efforts. The bill includes preventing any state agency, local board of education, or public institution of higher education to sponsor a DEI program or maintain an office, physical location or department that promoted DEI.

A person violating the act could face discipline or lose his or her job.

Opponents said the legislation could subject teachers to discipline for discussing widely-accepted historical facts and inhibit efforts to help students understand people from different backgrounds.

The bill was amended several times in the House of Representatives. The legislation originally said that nothing in it “may be construed to inhibit or violate the First Amendment rights of any student or employee, or to undermine the duty of a public institution of higher education to protect, to the greatest degree, academic freedom, intellectual diversity, and free expression, provided that none of these protected tenets conflict with this act.”

An amendment removed the final clause of the statement: “provided that non of these protected tenets conflict with with this act.”

Speaking after the bill passed Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said that the bill could have consequences, such as for higher education and major companies.

“That scares me, in terms of whether or not we’ll run other companies in the future away from Alabama,” he said.

Derrick Johnson, NAACP President & CEO, condemned the bill in a statement on Wednesday, saying Alabama government “has failed our children.”

“The ongoing assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion is part of an anti-Black agenda that seeks to revert our nation back to a time where Black students and teachers were denied adequate access to the classroom,” the statement said. “We refuse to go back. The NAACP remains committed to exploring all avenues of advocacy, mobilization, and litigation to ensure that our young people have the resources and support they deserve.”

The University of Alabama said in a statement Wednesday that its institutions “remain dedicated to our mission of providing exceptional educational, research and patient care experiences to all people, of all backgrounds, in welcoming and supportive environments that foster open thought, academic freedom and free expression.”

“Before the legislation goes into effect in October 2024, we will determine what actions are needed to ensure we can continue to fulfill our multifaceted missions and equip all campus community members for success at our universities and beyond in compliance with applicable law,” the statement said.

Auburn University President Christopher B. Roberts and Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Vini Nathan sent a message to the campus community Wednesday that said the school is committed to providing support to all students, “with particular emphasis on providing access and opportunity.”

“We work hard each day at Auburn to create an environment where our faculty, staff and students are welcomed, valued, respected and engaged,” they wrote in the letter. “We remain committed to providing these exceptional experiences while continuing to support academic freedom and freedom of expression. As always, Auburn will act consistently with applicable state and federal law.”