Oklahoma lawmakers defend bill banning critical race theory in public education

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Oklahoma lawmakers are not backing away from a measure they passed to outlaw critical race theory-infused teaching in public schools, despite a new lawsuit challenging the bill.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind to be filed in the nation as states begin passing bills banning critical race theory — a controversial theory that holds that while individual White people may not be intentionally racist, systemic racism continues to exist throughout American institutions to Black detriment and White advantage. 

Conservative Oklahoma legislators have responded to criticism from the left by saying the lawsuit mischaracterizes the language of the bill and predicting that courts will reject the challenge. 

The plaintiffs are led by the American Civil Liberties Union Oklahoma chapter, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and two high school teachers and a student, among others.

“Critical race theory is unconstitutional on its face and does nothing but sow the seeds of racial hatred within the next generation,” Republican state Sen. Rob Standridge told The Washington Times.

“Americans struggled for more than 100 years, suffering through a Civil War and passing multiple constitutional amendments, to end the malicious practice of racial discrimination. Critical race theory seeks to destroy all the progress we have made.”

The suit alleges the new law, HB 1775, chills the opportunity for discussion about important issues and thus runs afoul of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In some cases, schools have banned phrases like “diversity” and “White privilege,” according to the suit.

Both sides in the debate are paying attention to the Oklahoma litigation as several states have passed or are considering passage of bills that would ban curriculum, teaching materials and professional development created by critical race theory believers in public and charter schools.

The theory grew out of Marxist concepts in graduate schools, and its leading writers state clearly it stands in opposition to the modern liberal order and that certain behavioral traits are inherent in one’s race or sex.

The uproar caused by the injection of critical race theory into K-12 education has seen school boards and parents fighting in several states. In Rhode Island, for example, school officials along with a powerful teachers’ union threatened to sue one parent seeking public information.

The ACLU Oklahoma chapter did not respond to questions this week about the specific language it finds objectionable in the bill, which the plaintiffs contend is unconstitutional.

The bill is only four pages and it lists eight concepts that schools are prohibited from teaching:

— That one race or sex is inherently superior to another.

— That an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

— That an individual should be discriminated against because of his or her race or sex.

— That members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.

— That an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.

— 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.

— That an individual should feel discomfort or guilt on account of his or her race or sex.

— That the idea that hard work is admirable and should be rewarded is a racist concept created by one race to oppress another.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed HB 1775 last May, which also makes training and professional development work steeped in critical race theory concepts optional. 

At the time, he insisted the bill did not put guardrails on any aspect of history, and specifically cited ugly incidents like “the Tulsa race massacre” of 1921.

“We must continue to teach history in all its complexities and have honest and tough conversations about our past,” he said in a video statement. “Nothing in this bill prevents or discourages those conversations.”

Mr. Stitt’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.  

One of the authors of the bill outlawing critical race theory, Republican state Rep. Kevin West, has been vocal in predicting the lawsuit’s failure, telling CNN the suit is “full of half-truths, and in some cases 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,” he said. “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.”

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