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Opinion | A vague bill promises to ban something it seems

A group of Republican lawmakers wants to ban “divisive concepts.” The bill should die a quick death.

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A group of Republican lawmakers wants to ban “divisive concepts” from all educational institutions and state government agencies.

It is reasonable to believe that most people want government leaders who are rational, competent and, yes, even normal. But fools, charlatans and nincompoops are as likely to walk the halls of power as they are to work at Billy Bob’s Burgers.

House Bill 7, which targets divisive concepts, began as a conspiracy that held Critical Race Theory was being taught in public schools to indoctrinate children into liberal ideology. Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, the lead sponsor of HB7, said: “Ultimately, the reason that the left wants to push CRT amongst little kids is simply they want to sexualize them.”

“They want to racialize them at an early age to make them easy to manage, pure and simple,” he continued. “I hate to say a way to create more left-wingers that are woke and will do the things that the left wants them to do, but that’s exactly what it is, to divide people. To make groups fight each other, so they’re easier to manage.”

Far from the heated rhetoric surrounding HB7, the bill is vague. The bill lists seven prohibited concepts, but each is so indistinct and hazy as to leave the impression that it is altogether meaningless.

The first of seven prohibits teaching “that any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.” Likewise, the other six are concerned with various prohibitions on “race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.”

These so-called divisive concepts are so broadly defined as to leave them meaning whatever anyone wants them to mean.

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The lack of specificity is where the danger lies for educators, administrators and others because they can be fired or receive other punishment for defying a law that is so nebulous as to leave its meaning open for interpretation by whoever believes they have witnessed a violation.

Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass offers an example of how language can be weaponized.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, ” which is to be master—that’s all.”

When demagogues are given the power to control words, they are more than halfway toward commanding armies.

The sheer vagary of the HB7 has its own reward allowing the conspiracy-minded to find elite boogymen hiding behind every classroom door and state institution. For educators, it is a potent tool to keep them in line for fear of running afoul of the law. HB7 gives the witch-hunters an easy way to spot witches: they will be the ones teaching.

The first half of HB7 cracks down on what can and can’t be taught, while the last half seems to say we don’t mean anything we said in the first few pages.

HB7 is a poorly written bill meant to appease those who see evil lurking around every corner. It is not serious legislation that solves problems or expands prosperity.

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In March, the Legislature will assemble to enact “the people’s business.” HB7 has as much to do with the real life of real Alabamians as a goat does on the price of eggs.

Governing is serious business, but it doesn’t always attract the most intelligent, sober-minded individuals. The difference between an employee at Billy Bob’s Burgers and a lawmaker is that one must behave reasonably to remain employed and the other does not. 

Some legislators are irrational, superstitious and prone to massive misinterpretation of facts and data as is the case with HB7. Unfortunately, when lawmakers practice the fine art of stupidity, it has consequences for the entire state population.

HB7 should die a quick and painless death, but it’s Alabama.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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