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“Iowa does not have racism,” supporter of the bill tells lawmakers; Iowa lawmakers advance new bill banning race and sex ‘scapegoating’ training;

“Iowa does not have racism,” supporter of the bill tells lawmakers; Iowa lawmakers advance new bill banning race and sex ‘scapegoating’ training;

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The Iowa State Capitol building Friday, July 31, 2020, in Des Moines.

Although several lawmakers and lobbyists last week praised an Iowa House version of a public education free speech bill that stripped references to banning certain types of diversity training, a Republican legislator has introduced a separate measure asking lawmakers to ban that same training.

“Does anybody really want their kids taught that one race or sex is inherently superior to another? I just don’t think so,” Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said Monday during a House subcommittee meeting on House Study Bill 258, which he agreed to advance. “Not in America.”

Pulling language from an Iowa Senate free speech bill that would bar diversity training that includes “divisive concepts” in Iowa’s public universities and K-12 schools, Holt questioned why anyone would support diversity training implying one sex or race is inherently superior or suggesting Iowa is fundamentally racist.

“Iowa does not have racism,” Danny Carroll, on behalf of the conservative Family Leader Foundation, asserted to lawmakers in support of the proposed legislation. “We’ve got some conflict. But there’s no reason why our institutions of higher learning and public schools can’t consider both sides of these issues without fear of reprisal.”

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, in February introduced legislation, Senate Study Bill 1205, that would address a number of free speech issues across K-12 and public higher education in Iowa, including repercussions for violations.

That bill looks to make into Iowa law an executive order issued last fall by then-President Donald Trump — which has since been rescinded — banning diversity training with race or sex “stereotyping” or “scapegoating” at institutions that get federal funding.

A House version of that Senate bill removed language about the diversity training, which some lawmakers and lobbyists praised.

Keith Saunders, a lobbyist for the Board of Regents, aired concerns Monday about the House proposal addressing only the training ban on “divisive concepts.”

“In a session when we’re so focused on free speech, it feels a little antithetical to be putting into Iowa Code a list of divisive concepts that we can’t talk about,” he said.

“We think it’s incredibly important we have conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion on our campuses,” he said. “Many of our students come from communities that are not diverse. Many of our students come from communities that are very diverse. But they all come to our community, and many of our students don’t feel comfortable. Many of our faculty and staff do not feel comfortable. We have to have the ability to talk about these issues.” Keenan Crow, lobbying for the LGTBQ advocacy group One Iowa Action, noted a District Court judge has sided with a challenge of the executive order.

“The court said that the language was unconstitutionally vague and that it was impossible to determine what conduct was permitted,” Crow said, conceding, “Many of these things listed are statements that we as an organization would be against. People should never feel that they are inferior simply because of their race or sex.

“But we worry about how this will be interpreted, and we worry about the chilling effect on those institutions who seek us out as trainers. Will we be able to talk about systematic oppression? Will we be able to talk about concepts like privilege?”

In response, Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, said, “This is a great bill.”

“‘I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’ That’s a famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr.,” Wheeler said. “This bill is consistent with judging character rather than skin color or gender. We must reject identity politics and the divisiveness that comes with it. We must reject the ‘religion of wokeism,’ as Ben Shapiro calls it, that is running rampant in our country. And we must embrace Dr. King’s words as well as this bill.”

Although Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said, “I just can’t think of another bill we’ve had that narrowed the ability of people to have a conversation, or restrict speech,” Holt affirmed his argument for making the ban part of law.

“To me, it turns the whole effort of the last number of decades — to get to a point where we don’t see skin color and we’re judging one another by character as opposed to skin color — this sort of training seems to turn all that on top of his head.”

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