An American Civil Liberties Union-backed lawsuit filed against the state of Oklahoma Tuesday is seeking to put a stop to a law that limits the teaching of critical race theory in the state.
“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,” said ACLU of Oklahoma legal director Megan Lambert in a press release Tuesday.
FILE – In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures during a news conference in Oklahoma City. Stitt on Thursday, Jan.23, 2020, banned state-funded travel to the state of California, saying it’s in response to similar bans California has put in place on travel to the Sooner State. The first-term Republican issued an executive order that prohibits all non-essential travel by state employees to California, with exceptions for business recruiting trips, college sports games and trips by schools to participate in programs.(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
HB 1775, which was signed into law by Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, makes it the policy of the Oklahoma State Board of Education to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of race or sex,” making it illegal for teachers, administrators or other public school employees to teach that an “individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” The law also prohibits teaching that any race or sex is “inherently superior.”
But the ACLU-backed lawsuit claims that the law is actually “aimed at censoring discussions around race and gender in the classroom” while violating “students’ and educators’ First Amendment right to learn and talk about these issues.”
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to halt enforcement of HB 1775 on the grounds of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
A protester holds a sign outside a building as the Noblesville school board meets inside on Tuesday, May 4, 2021. The protesters, who wouldn’t provide their names, said they didn’t want the schools to teach critical race theory, a concept that examines systemic racism as a part of American life. The district said it doesn’t teach critical race theory.Noblesville Sign
“All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination,” said ACLU attorney Emerson Sykes of the law. “HB 1775 is so poorly drafted — in places it is literally indecipherable — that districts and teachers have no way of knowing what concepts and ideas are prohibited. The bill was intended to inflame a political reaction, not further a legitimate educational interest.”
The ACLU was joined in the lawsuit by the ACLU of Oklahoma and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the Black Emergency Response Team, University of Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the Oklahoma State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Indian Movement.
The Oklahoma State Capitol is located in Oklahoma City. (iStock)
“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.