By Stephon Johnson

A group of activists, educators and students filed a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma over a bill that essentially bans “critical race theory.”

Filed by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP, the University of Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU-AAUP)

and others, state bill H.B. 1775 is a violation of civil rights, prevents an open dialogue about history, and quashes any view from marginalized communities.

Genevieve Bonadies Torres, associate director of the Educational Opportunities Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that the bill handcuffs teachers into giving students the truth about America’s history.

“H.B. 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 in our schools,” Torres said “The law directly violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s command that governmental actors do not engage in racial discrimination. Every student in Oklahoma deserves an equitable education that reflects the rich diversity of the state and provides a full, fact-based discussion of the state’s checkered history of racism, sexism and discrimination.”

H.B. 1775 was created by Oklahoma State Rep. Kevin West and State Senator David Bullard and bans all K-12 schools in the state from teaching anything that, allegedly, implies that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The bill also states that students shouldn’t be taught that others “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex” and it bans schools from teaching that meritocracy is a myth created to oppress other races. 

Michael Givel, president of the University of Oklahoma chapter of the OU-AAUP, stated that this is the real threat to academic freedom that conservatives have used as a cudgel in other situations.

“The wording of this H.B. 1775 directly curtails academic freedom in public universities in Oklahoma,” said Givel. “It has a chilling effect on academic freedom as it can and has purposely targeted Oklahoma public school teachers and administrators from imparting a complete history in our schools, free from censorship or discrimination. Curriculum decisions and what is taught in a college classroom for the promotion of a balanced education is unequivocally protected from outside political requirements and interference. University professors are not sock puppets for the biased ideological agendas of elected politicians.” 

The bill has been opposed by the Oklahoma School Boards Association, the Oklahoma PTA, and officials at the University of Oklahoma.  

There’s been a nationwide fight against what’s known as “critical race theory” that’s emerged as a catch-all term for conservative activists to rail against anything they don’t like that mentions race. According to Ballotpedia, the political website that tracks elections across the country and streamlines story on politics, noted that conservative activists are in the middle of 50 recall campaigns to move 126 school board members that don’t align with their view. The goal is to make school boards lean right politically and change what’s taught in the country and how it’s taught. 

“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,” stated Megan Lambert, ACLU of Oklahoma legal director. “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.”

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