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Good Riddance to New Hampshire’s “Banned Concepts” Law

June 12, 2024

Late this May, a federal court ruling struck down New Hampshire’s classroom censorship law, known as a “banned concepts” law. The law identified concepts that teachers couldn’t teach students, all centered on critical topics like gender, sexual orientation, and race.

The actual parameters of teachers’ speech weren’t immediately apparent in the law’s language. What could a teacher say about the identified concepts without violating the law? There was no cogent answer, leaving advocates to raise concerns that the law would chill free speech. U.S. District Judge Paul J. Barbadoro agreed. Judge Barbadoro correctly found that the law was “unconstitutionally vague” and contains “viewpoint-based restrictions on speech” that raise significant First Amendment concerns.

As Brett Wilkins notes, Judge Barbadoro’s decision was met with celebration by education and free speech advocates. In the words of Chris Erchull, an attorney at the advocacy group GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, now, “teachers can do the work of planning lessons and guiding student discussions without fear of losing their license if someone raises a vaguely defined banned topic in the classroom.”

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation staunchly oppose attacks on our First Amendment right to free speech, and we’re disturbed by the rapid increase in pro-censorship laws across the country. It’s hardly radical to want classrooms to be places where teachers can teach and students can learn. Schools should welcome discussion, debate, and curiosity about how identity, community membership, and structures of power shape our daily lives.

Free Speech

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