Ten of the 17 members of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) diversity and inclusion council have resigned in protest, after the governor signed a new law that restricts how public school teachers and other government employees can talk about racism.
“It should not be taken lightly that nearly every member of the Council that is not part of your administration is resigning today, as we collectively see no path forward with this legislation in place,” the resigning members wrote in their letter to Sununu. The group includes the executive director of the New Hampshire ACLU, educators, doctors and children’s advocates.
Sununu established the council in 2017, with a mission to “combat discrimination and advance the ends of diversity and inclusion.”
Last week, he signed House Bill 2, a policy-focused “trailer bill” that passed along party lines in the GOP-controlled legislature. Among other provisions, the legislation bars public schools and government employees from teaching about systemic racism and bias. It also bans abortions beyond 24 weeks gestation, with exceptions only to save the life of the mother. Doctors who perform those abortions could face up to seven years in prison.
State Rep. Jim Maggiore (D) told HuffPost that he voted against the bill because he “could not in good conscience support language restricting the free speech of Granite Staters.” He was one of the 10 council members who quit Tuesday.
“Part of the real danger of this bill ― and it may very well be the point of it ― is to cause people to censor themselves in having these important conversations about race because they fear facing a lawsuit.”
The resigning members of the governor’s council called HB2 an attempt to “censor conversations essential to advancing equity and inclusion in our state, specifically for those within our public education systems, and all state employees,” saying it will “directly impact those who are working with some of our state’s most vulnerable populations, including educators, child welfare workers, and law enforcement.”
“Governor, we feel obligated to inform you that ― contrary to your recent public statements ― systemic racism does in fact exist here in New Hampshire,” they added.
Sununu responded to the news by saying that the council had been going through a “transition” anyway after the death of the former chairman, Rogers Johnson, in 2020. Johnson had been president of the Seacoast chapter of the NAACP.
Sununu also blasted the ACLU for inserting “politics into an otherwise fruitful mission in addressing many issues of race and discrimination in our state.”
“There are many individuals who have expressed a willingness to join these efforts as we come out of the pandemic, and we have already started filling these vacancies with representatives from all walks of life,” he added.
Devon Chaffee, the executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire ― who resigned from the council ― said she and her organization did not instigate the mass resignation; they were brought into the process later. She also noted that they did not reach out to the state employees on the council, since it would be unfair to put pressure on them to resign.
“Part of the real danger of this bill ― and it may very well be the point of it ― is to cause people to censor themselves in having these important conversations about race because they fear facing a lawsuit,” Chaffee told HuffPost. “What this bill does is it allows individuals in communities to file legal complaints against their local school, or it allows a disgruntled employee who doesn’t want to do an equity training to file a complaint against their employer. It potentially subjects teachers to discipline.”
“That creates an environment of fear ― and we’re already seeing this ― where teachers do not know what they can talk about and what they can’t talk about in the classrooms, and where government employers do not know what they can require their employees to learn and engage in and what they can’t,” she added.
Republican state legislators in dozens of states have been pushing legislation that would restrict how teachers can speak about race and bias, preventing them from talking about systemic racism and white privilege.