Republican States Push Back Against Critical Race Theory

Republican States Push Back Against Critical Race Theory
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 26, 2021. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Petr Svab

Republicans in at least seven states have introduced proposals that would ban the teaching concepts of the quasi-Marxist critical race theory (CRT). The measures range from banning government agencies from conducting training based on the theory to prohibiting the incorporation of the concepts into school curricula.

The efforts follow President Joe Biden’s reversal of last year’s executive order by President Donald Trump that banned federal agencies, contractors, subcontractors, and grantees from instructing their employees to follow CRT tenets.
CRT has gradually proliferated in recent decades through academia, government structures, school systems, and the corporate world. It redefines human history as a struggle between the “oppressors” (white people) and the “oppressed” (everybody else), similarly to Marxism’s reduction of history to a struggle between the “bourgeois” and the “proletariat.” It labels institutions that emerged in majority-white societies as racist and “white supremacist.”

Like Marxism, it advocates for the destruction of institutions, such as the Western justice system, free-market economy, and orthodox religions, while demanding that they be replaced with institutions compliant with the CRT ideology.

Proponents of CRT have argued that the theory is merely “demonstrating how pervasive systemic racism truly is.”
Scholars who have focused on decrypting the jargon of CRT literature have said the theory’s argument about “systemic racism” is not only riddled with fallacies, but also includes totalitarian elements of coercion and suppression of dissent, such as the rejection of all opposing views as illegitimate.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently denounced CRT as unsubstantiated and hateful.

“There’s no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money,” he said, announcing that the state’s new civic curriculum will explicitly exclude CRT.

Various bills addressing CRT are making their way through legislatures in states controlled by the GOP. None of them mention the theory by name. They largely seem to be modeled after Trump’s executive order, banning inculcation of “divisive concepts” that claim, for instance, that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” and 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.”
New Hampshire House Bill 544 would ban government institutions, including schools and universities, from teaching students or employees to “adopt or believe” CRT’s “divisive concepts.” It would also ban such instruction at workplaces of government contractors and subcontractors.

State Rep. Keith Ammon, who introduced the bill, told The Epoch Times that the idea came from a local state university professor who saw CRT “creeping” into his workplace. Ammon then learned from concerned citizens that CRT had been implemented in many places across the state, including some schools and universities, Ammon said.

The text of the bill was largely lifted from Trump’s order and adapted for the context of a state government, he said.

The bill allows promotion of “racial, cultural, or ethnic diversity or inclusiveness” as long as the enumerated tenets of CRT aren’t promoted.

Schools and universities would be free to discuss CRT “as part of a larger course of academic instruction ... in an objective manner and without endorsement.”

The bill passed the state’s Executive Departments and Administration Committee on March 24.

Though the House GOP caucus is “almost completely for” the bill, Ammon said the state’s Republican governor, Christopher Sununu, “is a bit shy about signing the bill.” That’s why the legislators also included the text of the bill in the two-year budget proposal that’s about to get out of a committee.

“By putting it in the budget, it makes it a little harder to veto,” Ammon said.

Sununu’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

West Virginia House Bill 2595 would ban the use of state grant money for anything that promotes CRT. “In addition, state contractors will not be permitted to inculcate such views in their employees,” the bill says. It also bans schools from teaching CRT and strips funding from any state agency that promotes the theory. The bill hasn’t progressed since its introduction on Feb. 18.
In Iowa, House Bill 802 would ban CRT from government, school, and university training as well as “diversity and inclusion efforts.” It allows discussion of the theory “as part of a larger course of academic instruction.”

It was approved by a subcommittee on March 23.

A similar bill was also introduced in the Iowa Senate.
Another Iowa House bill would slash funding for schools that adopt curricula based on the “1619 Project,” a program developed by The New York Times that reinterprets American history to portray the United States as inherently racist.
A similar proposal failed in Arkansas. Republicans worried it would set a precedent for the legislature to dictate what should and shouldn’t be taught at schools. They preferred for the decisions to be made by school districts.

Missouri state Rep. Brian Seitz has also introduced a similar bill, but it has made no progress since January.

In Oklahoma, state Sen. Shane Jett introduced a bill that would ban CRT from schools and create a process to fire or not rehire teachers who don’t obey. Jett said a “concerned constituent” requested the bill, which led the senator to research the issue.

“I was appalled by what I saw,” Jett told The Epoch Times. As word got out that he was looking into the matter, some Oklahoma teachers started to provide him with materials and testimonials on CRT spreading in schools there.

“It’s basically psychological abuse of children,” who are “having their entire curriculum hijacked by ‘how can we look at this academic subject through the prism of race,’” Jett said.

His immediate issue was the “general lack of information about what is critical race theory,” he said. He said his fellow lawmakers either didn’t know what CRT was or were surprised that it was being taught in Oklahoma.

“Once we explain what is being taught, how it’s being taught, to whom it’s being taught,” he said, Republican lawmakers “are becoming increasingly sympathetic and desiring to address it.”

The bill wasn’t heard by the education committee by the deadline; some Republicans objected to it on the grounds that the legislature shouldn’t get involved in what is taught in classrooms.

Jett argued that his oath of office binds him to protect the Constitution of the United States. He sees CRT as an effort to undermine the constitutional order, and that obligates him to intervene. He’s looking for a House bill with a sympathetic sponsor that he can use as a vehicle for his proposal.

Proponents of CRT have criticized the efforts to curb its spread on the grounds that the lawmakers introducing it must be racist and also that the bills would restrict people’s First Amendment right to discuss CRT. This argument was rejected by Christopher Rufo, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth and Poverty, who has been advocating for the removal of CRT from government institutions.

“The government does not have a right to free speech,” he said in an internal panel discussion for New Hampshire legislators earlier in March. “We have a right to free speech as American individuals against the government. The government can’t say whatever it wants. In fact, as legislators, you are duty-bound to constrain the speech of government, to have correct speech and right speech that reflects the values of voters. I mean, it’s just completely totalitarian to say that government has a right to unlimited speech.”

Rufo’s argument was echoed by Robert Lynn, former chief justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

“The law is settled that when the government chooses to pursue policy objectives it may compel its employees to speak in support of those objectives as a condition of their employment,” he said in a March 15 memo to Jason Osborne, New Hampshire House majority leader.

Case law is more stringent on restrictions of speech in academic settings, he noted. But since the bill is sufficiently specific and allows the discussion of CRT without promoting or advocating it, it “should pass constitutional muster,” he said.

“As this bill is debated, it might be worthwhile to try to pin down the opponents of the bill about whether they actually believe or support any of the divisive concepts that the bill seeks to prohibit. I suspect that some of them do support these pernicious concepts, but I doubt they will ever be willing to admit it. Still, forcing them to go on the record—or to duck the question—might prove to be a most interesting exercise!”