Oklahoma Faces Lawsuit for ‘Unconstitutional’ Critical Race Theory Ban

In Summary

Oklahoma is at the center of a lawsuit because of legislation that many view as yet another attempt by GOP-controlled states to prohibit discussion of critical race theory. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against Oklahoma’s governor, attorney general and top education officials on the basis that it’s unconstitutional to restrict topics of race and sex in classrooms and doing so violates students’ and educators’ First and 14th Amendment rights, per The Washington Post’s Bryan Pietsch

The civil rights organization, along with student and educator groups, is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent implementation of the law, which took effect in July.  

RELATED: Texas bill bans schools from requiring lessons on Critical Race Theory 

“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, per NPR’s Jaclyn Diaz. “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.” 

HB 1775 plainly specifies that no registered student in the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education is required to participate in any sort of mandated gender or sexual diversity training or therapy. However, voluntary counseling is not forbidden. Any orientation or requirement that promotes racial or sexist stereotyping or bias based on race or sex is forbidden. 

It also prohibits educators from teaching 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 “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” 

Sykes went on to say that the measure was intended to elicit a political reaction rather than serve a true educational purpose, adding that these flaws in the law are all the more concerning because the bill applies to public schools and universities, where academic freedom is particularly protected under the First Amendment. 

RELATED: North Carolina Gov. Vetoes Bill Banning Critical Race Theory 

It’s one of a handful of bills approved by Republican-controlled states that many regard as attempting to prohibit discussion of critical race theory, an academic framework for studying how policies and laws sustain systemic racism. 

According to Diaz, the lawsuit is the first of its kind to challenge the state’s agenda to limit lessons on critical race theory, which is a legal theory based on the idea that race is a social construct used to oppress people of color rather than a natural, biological trait. 

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