Statement from ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer on the "defined concepts" law, House File 802, which goes into effect July 1, 2021:
"We condemn the enactment of this harmful, poorly written law, which is intended to censor and shut down speech about systemic racism and sexism.
"This legislation is contradictory and confusing. It purports to not limit discussion of race and sex discrimination, or diversity and inclusion programs. But it then specifically bans discussions of systemic racism and systemic sexism in our society, institutions, and government.
"The law is designed to stop any conversation about the fact that racism exists at a systemic level. It's also designed to stop discussion about how, within those systems, implicit biases (which we all have, regardless of our own race or gender) cause unacceptable and undeniable racial disparities in everything from education to housing, employment to criminal justice, and health care.
"But the incoherence and vagueness is certainly the point. Like the executive order that it was based on, this law aims to totally shut down discussions about racial and gender equity. It’s the worst kind of lawmaking, because it was written to confuse and scare, so that government employees and contractors will simply avoid the topics of racism and sexism altogether in order to avoid violating this law.
"The new law obviously targets the speech of employees of state and local government, schools, colleges, and universities. But it also seeks to apply these restrictions on speech to private persons, nonprofits, and businesses that contract with those government entities.
"Let’s be clear: To the extent that the bill will restrict or have a chilling effect on the speech of these private contractors in what they say and do on their own time, when they are not providing government services—requiring them not to “teach, advocate, act upon, or promote specific defined concepts” — it’s unconstitutional. A federal court already said as much in Santa Cruz Lesbian and Gay Community Center v. Trump in blocking the provisions of the former executive order that restricted the speech of government contractors.
"Let’s also be clear about what this law is. This law is a dog whistle.
"What a sad day for our state, which has in many ways led on race and gender equality throughout our history. This legislation does not reflect the good hearts and open minds of the people of Iowa."