TRENTON — Among the bills that could reach Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk Thursday is one requiring school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion in elementary schools.

If the committee hearing on the bill, A4454/S2781, is any indication, there could be some contentious debate. Social conservatives say they’re concerned because the bill includes instruction related to sexual orientation, along with gender, race and ethnicity, disabilities, religious beliefs and economic status.

“This program is basically instructing our youth on how to become transgender and/or homosexual,” said Catrina Albo, of Roxbury.

“You legislators that are passing this bill, you are pedophiles. You are child molesters,” said Eliezer Richter, a Lakewood rabbi, who said the plan isn’t teaching tolerance but rather tells kids “if it feels good, do it.”

State Sen. Dick Codey, D-Essex, said the bill’s goal is to teach students to tolerate differences.

“I don’t want to steer anybody anywhere,” said Codey, a former governor. “Whatever their choice is, God love them. And I think we should all do just the same, as well.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, said the bill promotes American democracy by talking about race, socioeconomics, religion and gender equity.

“About issues that have been compressed for so long that you have seen surface in such an intolerable way, covered by hate,” Ruiz said.

That remark led to an unusually loud exchange when state Sen. Mike Doherty, R-Warren, who had already spoken on the bill as he voted against it, shouted a response.

“That’s your opinion that it’s motivated by hate. They’re motivated by love,” Doherty said.

“Thank you, Sen. Doherty,” Ruiz said. “Please mute his microphone.”

“That’s your opinion it’s motivated by hate,” Doherty repeated.

“You had your opportunity to speak. Mute his microphone!” Ruiz directed the Office of Legislative Services aide helping manage the Zoom meeting.

The exchange ended with the bill’s opponents alleging tyranny and censorship.

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Doherty said it’s not appropriate to include diversity and inclusion lessons involving sexual orientation as young as kindergarten. He also said the bill makes people of religious faith second-class citizens and emphasizes people’s differences rather than what unifies them.

“Every time we have these bills, it’s always about dividing it, and then there’s plenty of folks that want to gin up resentment,” Doherty said. “And before you know it, we have 2020, where half the country hates the other half of the country.”

The Senate is scheduled to approve the bill Thursday. It was already approved by the Assembly but would have to return there for another vote to agree with amendments.

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