A coalition of progressive civil rights groups sued Oklahoma on Tuesday over its law that bans schools from teaching students they should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or sex.
The lawsuit is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and is the first federal lawsuit to challenge an anti-critical race theory state statute, according to NBC News.
“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,” ACLU of Oklahoma legal director Megan Lambert said in a statement.
The suit was filed 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. It asks a federal judge to immediately halt enforcement of the law and to declare it unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth amendments.
However, the law, which took effect in May, does not ban conversations around race but rather materials that teach students that anyone is “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Republican Governor Kevin Stitt has said that the law would ensure that no taxpayer money would be used “to define and divide young Oklahomans about their race or sex.”
Proponents of the law say it is intended to prevent teachers from making white students feel personally responsible for past racism and to protect students of color from racial stereotyping.
State Representative Kevin West, a Republican and chief sponsor of HB 1775, 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.”
The suit argues the law limits discussions about several dark periods of the state’s history, including the Oklahoma’s constitutional provision that racially segregated schools until 1954, as well as the Tulsa Race Massacre, in which a white mob torched 30 blocks of black-owned businesses, homes and churches on May 31 and June 1 of 1921. The massacre, which occurred in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, known as “Black Wall Street,” left nearly 300 dead and roughly 800 wounded.
However, Stitt said in May when he signed the bill that educators “can and should teach this history without labeling a young child an ‘oppressor.’”