By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
A group of students and educators has filed a complaint challenging an Oklahoma law that restricts teaching about race and gender, in what the American Civil Liberties Union calls the first federal lawsuit to challenge such a statewide ban.
The suit — backed by the ACLU, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Oklahoma state conference of the NAACP and the American Indian Movement (AIM) Indian Territory — seeks to block enforcement of the law it says inhibits free speech and education of complete history through the framework of critical race theory.
The concept has ignited controversy in recent months, and at least two dozen states have taken steps to ban topics surrounding critical race theory from being taught in schools.
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.
“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 agreement on its meaning,'” the lawsuit says.
State Rep. Kevin West, who authored HB 1775, told CNN 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 said in a statement.
Gary Peller, a professor at Georgetown Law and author of “Critical Race Consciousness: Reconsidering American Ideologies of Racial Justice,” told CNN earlier this year that critical race theory acknowledges racism is both systemic and institutional in American society and that White people have historically held racial power.
The bill has impacted students’ ability to exchange ideas, engage in discussions and study history, the lawsuit argues.
“All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination,” said Emerson Sykes, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The bill was intended to inflame a political reaction, not further a legitimate educational interest.”
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