Two liberal groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state of Oklahoma’s law banning the teaching of critical race theory, the first such action challenging measures taken by lawmakers to combat the controversial pedagogy.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights backed the lawsuit that argues the Oklahoma measure, passed in May, should be banned as a violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments.
Oklahoma is one of at least eight states that have passed bills banning the use of critical race theory in public and charter schools.
The theory, developed from Marxist concepts in graduate schools, informs much of the “anti-racism” material adopted by educators, and holds that all American institutions are riddled with systemic racism.
The plaintiff group says Oklahoma’s HB 1775 both “chills students’ and educators’ First Amendment right to learn and talk about these issues [and] also prevents students from having an open and complete dialogue about American history — one that includes the experiences and viewpoints of all historically marginalized communities in this country,” according to the state’s ACLU branch.
Plaintiffs against the Oklahoma law include the Black Emergency Response Team (BERT); the American Association of University Professors at the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP and the American Indian Movement.
In addition, a high school student and high school teachers Anthony Crawford and Regan Killackey are plaintiffs, the Oklahoma ACLU said.
“HB 1775 is an unvarnished attempt to silence the experiences and perspectives of Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ people and other groups who have long faced exclusion and marginalization in our institutions, including our schools,” said Genevieve Bonadies Torres of the Lawyers Committee to Protect Civil Rights Under Law. “The law directly violates the Fourteenth Amendments’ command that governmental actors do not engage in racial discrimination.”
Although the law did not explicitly prohibit them, the ACLU and other plaintiffs claim some school districts have stopped the use of terms like “diversity” and “White privilege.” The law also did not ban teaching of racist periods and incidents in American history.
The law explicitly outlines seven concepts that could not form part of public education, including the ideas “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’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.”
Also outlawed were concepts such as the notion “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” and that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The methods and materials incorporating the tenets of critical race theory have led to protests when they are introduced to school districts around the U.S.
A handful of groups have sprung up this year to oppose the “anti-racist” focus and mindset, primarily in K-12 education, and, in response, both of the huge teachers’ unions have vowed to pursue action against opponents of critical race theory-infused curriculum.