Legislative bans on teaching critical race theory in schools “impose government dictates on teaching and learning,” says a new report from the free expression advocacy group PEN America, The New York Times reports.

“In short: They are educational gag orders.

“Taken together,” it continues, “the efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content- and viewpoint-based state censorship.”

The group analyzed more than 50 bills from 24 different state-level legislatures in the U.S., the majority of which “target discussions of race, racism, gender, and American history,” and “appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: They are educational gag orders.”

“Taken together, the efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content- and viewpoint-based state censorship,” the report adds. 

PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel told the Times that the intent of the report wasn’t to endorse any single curriculum or method of teaching, but instead to issue an appeal to peoples’ “higher principles.”

“We’re not asking people to fall silent in terms of deliberation over how this racial reckoning is transpiring,” she said. “But the speed of the resort to censorship, without any apparent awareness of the contradictions, is part of the broader erosion of free speech in our society.”

PEN argues in the report that many of the bills targeting critical race theory are vaguely-written, which could lead to a broader chilling effect on free speech.

“This over-breadth and ambiguity is why they are so alarming,” the group’s director of freedom of expression and education, Jonathan Friedman, told the Times. “The truth is, most administrators and general counsels will quickly say, ‘Let’s not run afoul of this.'”

He added that the group’s point isn’t to stop discussion of race or other contentious topics, but to allow discussion in schools.

“You can’t say you support free speech and say you support these bills,” Friedman said.  Nossel added, “or even be silent about them.”

However, the editor of the conservative journal First Things, R.R. Reno, told the Times that these bills are “a response to bureaucratic capture” of the system of education by “radical voices,” saying that “most voters will not be swayed by these nuances,” in the report, which was summarized by a Times reporter.

Reno added that some of the legislation could be “terribly defective, but if that’s not the way to regain control of the educational establishment, tell us what the right way is?”