New Jersey state legislators spar over diversity and inclusion bill

Mike Doherty
Mike Doherty is a Republican NJ State Senator in the 23rd District

Mike Doherty is no stranger to controversy

The Senate Education Committee approved legislation in New Jersey that would require school districts in the state to provide education on diversity and inclusion as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. Although the bill passed in committee, it was not without serious debate and contention on the part of Republicans, particularly Sen. Mike Doherty.

it’s important that respect and inclusion be reflected in our schools, say advocates

“I learned at a young age to be tolerant and understanding of those who are different,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Richard Codey, a Democrat. “It is a life skill that is vital, and it’s important that respect and inclusion be reflected in our schools.

“Teaching our students at a young age to appreciate our differences as well as the things that bring us all together as Americans will help them grow up to be more well-rounded adults. While in June the State Board of Education adopted the 2020 New Jersey State Learning Standards, which included an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, this bill will strengthen and codify this new curriculum so that it can continue to be a requirement in the years to come.”

The bill, S-2781, empowers the Commission of Education to give school districts sample learning activities and resources, which would promote diversity and inclusion as part of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education for students grades 9 through 12. The purpose of this is to encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students. Diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance and belonging would be amongst the main highlights with other topics including gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, religious tolerance, and unconscious bias.

“Each student is unique and different in their own ways, and it is important that we emphasize these differences instead of ignoring them,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Bob Smith, also a Democrat. “By incorporating this instruction into a school’s curriculum, we can teach our students to celebrate all the factors that go into making them unique from one another. Our goal is that this bill will lead to a more inclusive and welcoming generation of New Jerseyans.”

In opposition, Republican Senators claimed that they feared a sexual agenda creeping into public education as well as an effort by the forces of secular humanism to undermine Christianity. Doherty, who is no stranger to controversy, turned a speech during a memorial service for victims of the 9/11 attacks into a denial of systemic racism and called Black Lives Matter a Marxist movement.

Bob Smith
Democratic NJ State Senator Bob Smith

“The idea that we’re going to expose four and five-year-olds to some of these teachings,” Doherty said of his opposition. “You’re going to destroy these children. The idea that we’re going to expose innocent children to these concepts. We were [once] proud about what brought us together as American citizens. This bill is highlighting and exacerbating our differences. These folks have an agenda. We’re going to make people of religious faith second-class citizens. We need to bring people together.”

After his speech, Democratic Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, the Education Committee chair, gave her own speech on the matter at hand, which Doherty tried to interrupt when Ruiz called his speech “hate.” When he made his comments, Ruiz told the staff to “mute his microphone,” which prompted hysterical cries of, “we just experienced tyranny!” and “Censorship! Censorship!” from the bill’s Republican opponents. Ruiz said she had respected Doherty during his remarks and, “would at a bare minimum expect the same respect in return.”

“I thought that was very presumptuous and a poor choice of words to use the word hate to label the opponents of the bill,” Doherty said afterward. “The opponents of the bill were motivated by love for their families and protecting the innocence of children. Not hate, as characterized by Sen. Ruiz. For someone who preaches tolerance, the words she chose when labeling the opponents of the bill were not very tolerant.”