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American Civil Liberties Union Files Suit Against Oklahoma Ban on Critical Race Theory

— October 22, 2021

The lawsuit observes that Oklahoma’s H.B. 1775 does not even provide an adequate definition of what critical race theory is.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against the state’s controversial ban on schools teaching critical race theory.

According to CBS News, the American Civil Liberties Union says that the Oklahoma law–House Bill 1775—prevents Black, female, indigenous, and non-heterosexual students from being taught their history.

The complaint also suggests that H.B. 1775 inhibits free speech.

Several students and educators have also joined the lawsuit, saying that the legislation complicates their goals of promoting diversity while opening students to “heightened levels of racial and gender hostility.”

“Teachers have received guidance to comply with H.B. 1775 by avoiding terms such as “diversity” and “white privilege,” while administrators have simultaneously acknowledged that “no one truly knows what [the Act] means or can come to an agreement on its meaning,” the complaint reads.

“The Act’s vague, overbroad, and viewpoint discriminatory provisions leave Oklahoma educators with an impossible-and unconstitutional-choice: avoid topics related to race or sex in class materials and discussions or risk losing their teaching licenses for violating the law,” the lawsuit states.

Emerson Sykes, an ACLU staff attorney, released a statement saying that young people deserve to learn about diversity and inclusivity.

LGBTQ flag. Image via Quote Catalog, Flickr, CC BY 2.0, no changes.

“All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination,” Sykes said. “The bill was intended to inflame a political reaction, not further a legitimate educational interest. These infirmities in the law are all the more troubling because the bill applies to public colleges and universities, where the First Amendment is especially protective of academic freedom.”

CBS News notes that this is the first lawsuit to openly challenge a state-level ban on the teaching of critical race theory.

In the past two years, nearly a dozen Republican-led states have banned critical race theory from being taught in public schools. Some conservatives believe that the theory is “evil” or “racist,” insofar as it suggests that American institutions are often underlain by systemic racism.

Former President Donald Trump, for instance, said that, “Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison, that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together, will destroy your country.”

However, educators have been keen to point out that people like former President Donald Trump often do not seem to understand what critical race theory is.

The lawsuit observes that H.B. 1775 is written using “vague” language, and does not even provide a clear definition of what critical race theory is, and what educators can and cannot teach.

Megan Lambert, the ACLU of Oklahoma’s legal director, said that H.B. 1775 has the potential to interfere in children’s education—and must therefore be overturned.

“Education is a tool of empowerment put to its highest use when teachers and students are afforded the full scope of their constitutional rights to engage in comprehensive, meaningful, and sometimes difficult conversations,” Lambert said. “HB 1775 is a direct affront to the constitutional rights of teachers and students across Oklahoma by restricting conversations around race and gender at all levels of education. We bring this case to vindicate the rights of Oklahoma teachers and students and to protect the integrity of our educational institutions.”


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