Civil rights groups, students and educators filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the state of Oklahoma over a law that limits how race and gender are taught in public schools.
The bill, HB 1775, which was passed by Gov. Kevin Stitt this past May, intended to save students from being “indoctrinated.” However, the complaint, filed on Tuesday, claims that it actually just inhibits free speech and denies people of color, girls and LGBTQ students a complete history education.
The suit was brought by several plaintiffs, including the American Civil Liberties Union, state chapter of the NAACP, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the activist group American Indian Movement-Indian Territory, according to CNN. The coalition is requesting that a federal judge declares the law unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth amendments.
Here’s more from CNN:
Oklahoma’s HB 1775, which does not include the term “critical race theory,” is intended to stop discrimination, according to the bill. If any educator makes part of their curriculum teachings that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” they could be suspended or have their license removed, according to the law.
When the law went into effect in July, according to the lawsuit, its vague terms left many educators to err on the side of caution, striking Black and female authors from their reading lists “while leaving in place texts by White and male authors,” the lawsuit said.
Oklahoma is one of five states, all controlled by Republicans, of course, that have placed similar limits on their school districts. According to CNN, at least two dozen states are actively banning topics, books and more that fall under their definition of “critical race theory.”
A few Oklahoma school districts have already stopped teachers from using the terms “diversity” and “white privilege” in class. According to NBC, Genevieve Bonadies Torres, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the group has received reports about several Oklahoma schools getting rid of classic books from their curriculum to avoid discussions of race.
Let me just say, I can’t imagine a 10th grade English Literature class without reviewing symbolism in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” or breaking down the dialect in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. Yes, those were on the list.
Other civil rights groups backing the lawsuit include the University of Oklahoma chapter of the American Association of University Professors and a group of student activists from the school, called the Black Emergency Response Team. NBC notes that the student group formed to combat racism after a campus fraternity was caught on video singing a song about lynching and using the N-word in 2015.
The University of Oklahoma claims that as a result of HB 1775, their students can now opt out of diversity and sexual harassment training—which they have proved again and again that they actually need.
Here’s more from NBC:
Oklahoma’s law is particularly egregious, the suit says, because it limits discussion of dark periods of the state’s history by preventing students and teachers from asking uncomfortable questions. The suit lists several moments that are difficult for educators to cover: the 1889 Land Runs, in which settlers raced to claim land in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory; the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, when a white mob attacked a community known as Black Wall Street, killing hundreds of people and destroying homes and businesses; and the state’s constitutional provision that required racially segregated schools until the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed them in 1954.
Rep. Kevin West, the author of the controversial bill, told CNN that the complaint is “full of half-truths” and “blatant lies.”
“It is unfortunate, but not surprising, to see radical leftist organizations supporting the racist indoctrination of our children that HB 1775 was written to stop. The law ensures that all history is taught in schools without shaming the children of today into blaming themselves for problems of the past, as radical leftists would prefer,” West also said in a statement, according to CNN.
Those who support the law want to stop classroom discussion about concepts like “systemic racism” and “intersectionality,” NBC notes. However, Emerson Sykes, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, says the bill was “intended to inflame a political reaction, not further a legitimate educational interest.”
“All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination,” Sykes said, according to CNN.