By Christian Wade | The Center Square
Members of a state-sanctioned diversity and inclusion panel have resigned over New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to sign a budget that included a ban on teaching “divisive concepts” about race and ethnicity.
On Tuesday, 10 members of the 16-member Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion submitted a letter of resignation to Sununu citing his support for the provision of the spending package he signed last week that prohibits teaching about systemic racism and sexism in public schools and state-funded programs.
The council members who resigned, which included Deputy Chairwoman Dr. Dottie Morris and Cheshire County Sheriff Eliezer Rivera, said the governor’s approval of the controversial measure is in “direct conflict” with the council’s stated purpose to “combat discrimination and advance diversity and inclusion.”
“We accepted your appointment to this council out of commitment and love for this state and your stated desire to advance diversity and inclusion,” the councilors wrote. “Given your willingness to sign this damaging provision and make it law, we are no longer able to serve as your advisors.”
Sununu created the diversity council and a new civil rights unit at the Attorney General’s office by executive order in 2018 to review the state’s anti-discrimination laws and make recommendations for changes. The council has held public hearings and listening sessions across the state and taken testimony from citizens.
Dr. James Morse, a school superintendent and former councilor, said the provision is “designed to hide, obscure, and deny racism, prejudice, and discrimination of many kinds.”
“If we are to grow as a state and community, we must recognize our past and learn from it – not hide New Hampshire’s difficult history from our schools, institutions, and workplaces,” he said.
Devon Chaffee, a council member and executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said the Sununu administration ignored calls from advocates to reject the proposal.
“Civil rights leaders, business owners, and educators all made overwhelmingly clear that this provision would harm New Hampshire,” he said. “Our deepest concern for teachers is that they are already feeling the impact of this legislation, while simultaneously enduring the latest attacks we are seeing on school boards across the state.”
Supporters of the provision argued that the move will strengthen the state’s anti-discrimination laws and improve race relations.
“This is consistent with making sure that we do not train, do not instruct, do not teach our kids that they’re somehow inferior or superior, that they’re inherently racist, sexist or oppressive by virtue of the characteristics they’re born with,” Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said in recent remarks in support of the bill.
But the move was strongly opposed by Senate Democrats, who tried unsuccessfully to block the provision from being added to the final spending package.
Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, ripped the proposal as “anti-American” and said it would have a “chilling effect” on free speech.
The “divisive concepts” provision mirrors an executive order issued last year by then-Republican President Donald Trump. That order was rescinded by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
There was no immediate comment from the Sununu administration on the resignations.
In the letter, council members who resigned said they plan to continue pushing for “honest and difficult conversations about race, gender, and other forms of discrimination and bias.”
“We also hope that, in time, you will come to understand the true damage that this legislation has caused to the fabric of New Hampshire’s communities,” they wrote.