Oklahoma is first state to be sued over its ban on critical race theory

Some districts have scaled back diversity, equity, and inclusion training as a result of the law, the ACLU says. 
By: | October 19, 2021

A multiracial group of students and educators sued the state of Oklahoma Tuesday over an anti-critical race theory law they say “severely restricts” classroom discussions about race and gender.

The lawsuit argues House Bill 1775, which Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law in May as a wave of Republican-controlled states were banning critical race theory, violates students’ and educators’ First Amendment right to talk about race and gender in K-12 and higher education settings.

The law also prevents students from learning American history from the perspective of historically marginalized communities, says the lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the Black Emergency Response Team, the University of Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, Oklahoma’s NAACP chapter and the American Indian Movement.

“All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination,” Emerson Sykes, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement. “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, signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May as a wave of Republican-controlled states were banning critical race theory, bars schools from teaching that people can be inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive based on their own race or sex.

Schools also cannot teach 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.” And instruction cannot make anyone feel uncomfortable or guilty on account of their race of sex, the bill says.

Seven other states have passed similar bills this year.

The plaintiffs in the Oklahoma case are asking that the court issue an injunction and declare the law unconstitutional.

“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,” said Genevieve Bonadies Torres, associate director of the Educational Opportunities Project with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Since the bill’s passage, school districts in Oklahoma have told teachers to stop using terms such as “diversity” and “white privilege” in their classrooms, the ACLU says.

Books, including To Kill a Mockingbird and Raisin in the Sun have been removed from reading lists while some districts have scaled back diversity, equity, and inclusion training, the ACLU says.