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AUSTIN — A bill that would ban critical race theory from being taught in higher education went before members of the Texas Senate Higher Education Subcommittee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 16 would prohibit faculty of higher education institutions from compelling or attempting to compel a student to adopt “a belief that any race, sex, ethnicity or social, political or religious belief is inherently superior to any other race.”

“No one is suggesting that various and diverse materials will not be presented to students,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola and author of the bill. “…However, we want to draw that line and say we do not want the university telling students, ‘you must believe X,’ ‘you must adopt this belief.’”

Critical race theory is a university-level academic concept that teaches that race is a social construct embedded into American legal systems and policies.

It has gained national condemnation by right-wing politicians, with Texas Republicans arguing that critical race theory instills the idea that one race is the aggressor while others — specifically minorities — are the victims.

Last session, Texas lawmakers passed a law that bans the teaching of critical race theory in grades K-12. This session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to ban the teaching of critical race theory in state-funded universities, naming it a top priority.

Carol Swain, with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said critical race theory “others” individuals who do not believe in its principles.

This, she argued, is impacting students’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

“Students are finding themselves in situations where if they don't participate in what everyone else is doing, they are outing themselves,” Swain said.

Antonio Ingram, with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said he is against the bill for its overly broad language.

He said he fears it would encompass a broad range of courses and, in particular, target courses predominantly taught by minority professors.

Anna Schwartz, a resident who offered testimony, said she believes the vagueness of the bill will limit freedom of thought on college campuses.

“Senate Bill 16 will have a chilling effect on classroom discussion, especially discussion of some of the most pressing concerns of modern American life,” she said. “Without the liberty to discuss complexity, educators in the institution cannot fulfill the most dynamic function of higher education, which is the exposure of new ideas that deserve careful study.”

“This bill will produce a future student body and citizens whose lives are poor because they were educated in a climate of fear,” she added.

The subcommittee voted to move the bill forward.

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