The right to free expression is a cornerstone of our democracy. Its protection is particularly critical for Black Americans and other marginalized groups who have a long history of battling infringement of this right. Over the past year, we have watched a clear and coordinated attack on truth and a push to deny our nation’s shameful legacy of racism. States are passing laws that could ban or restrict what students in the United States can learn about our history, silence dissent, and punish those who speak the truth to counter whitewashed falsehoods.
Attacks on free speech and the truthful teaching of our history in schools go hand in hand with laws restricting the voting rights of Black Americans, laws criminalizing protest, and attacks on race-conscious policies like affirmative action. These laws threaten to take us back decades and reverse progress toward racial justice.
This year, we watched states enact laws that could ban or restrict the teaching of a truthful American history, and establish financial penalties for non-compliance. We watched mobs of white parents descend on school board meetings to decry so-called “critical race theory” and wage battles over what students are taught about the past, present, and future. These efforts to ban or restrict discussions about race and racism are part of a long American history of white backlash in response to demands for educational equity.
Denying history and banning discussions of systemic racism upholds white supremacy. Our students deserve and need more than a white-washed, sanitized, revised version of American history. We cannot progress further and build a better society for our children if we can’t talk about where we are coming from. Defending education that is historically accurate and inclusive of the experiences of Black Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, women, and other marginalized groups is the work we must all now do in the face of this coordinated backlash against an inclusive America.
The first installment of LDF’s original content series examines the attacks on ‘Critical Race Theory’ and efforts to ban books as the latest tactics to halt racial justice.
The second installment takes a broader historical view of today’s attacks on truth, efforts to silence conversations about our nation’s history, and virulent backlash to racial justice and educational equity.
More than 30 states have introduced legislation that could restrict or ban what students can learn and what teachers can teach about our nation’s history. More than 12 states have already passed versions of these laws or mandated similar statewide policies. (Source: Edweek)
The word “woke” has been a signal urging Black people to be aware of the systems that harm and otherwise put us at a disadvantage since the 1920s. Now, it has been co-opted and maligned. Our latest Original Content piece explores how the term “woke” has been manipulated and maligned to hold back racial justice progress.
On August 18, 2022, a group of higher education students and educators filed a lawsuit challenging Florida’s HB 7 — also known as the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees (“Stop W.O.K.E.”) Act — a classroom censorship bill which severely restricts Florida educators and students from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender in higher education classrooms. Pernell v. Florida Board of Governors is the first lawsuit filed by LDF challenging anti-truth efforts and legislation.
Former President Trump’s “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” issued in September 2020 became the blueprint for states to craft their own bans on truth. Many of the same “divisive concepts” reappear in state legislation, and the rallying cries against “critical race theory” can be heard in school board meetings and statehouses across the country. LDF swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality as a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process and the equal protection of the law.
LDF and co-counsel Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak, & Cohen, P.C. represent twenty-six Harvard student and alumni organizations, comprised of thousands of Asian American, Black, Latinx, Native American, and white students and alumni, in their quest to protect the university’s holistic admissions process. The groups joined together to submit amicus briefs condemning a lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) in 2014 that seeks to eliminate the consideration of race in Harvard’s admissions, threatening diversity at the college.
LDF is a leading voice in the decades-long struggle for equitable college admissions policies, from its early efforts to desegregate colleges and universities throughout the Jim Crow South to its ongoing advocacy for the continued use of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education.
LDF is working to protect truth in education in Alabama and South Carolina. Both states have introduced legislation that could threaten truthful and honest discussions of history in classrooms, universities, and state agencies.
Truthful and inclusive discussions about United States history – like the Trail of Tears, Selma Bridge Crossing, and the oppression of religious minorities – are essential to accurate and quality academic instruction and reduce the rate of school-based racial discrimination. In both states, LDF has been working with partner organizations to urge people to stand up for the truth and submit testimony in opposition to the harmful bills introduced by the legislature.
The African American Policy Forum launched the #TruthBeTold campaign to document the impact and damage caused by the Executive Order. The campaign underscores the need for deeper engagement on and examination of issues of race, gender, intersectionality, and justice.
The 1619 Project and so-called “critical race theory” are being used as a rallying cry to advance a political agenda aimed at maintaining the systems of white supremacy and reducing the power of Black people and other people of color. At the heart of both academic research and investigative journalism is the search for truth.
Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, a clear retaliation against Ms. Hannah-Jones and the result of a campaign by conservative activists to discredit her work, and silence who speak the truth about our nation’s history of racism. LDF represents Ms. Hannah-Jones in connection with the Board’s failure to consider and approve the faculty recommendation of tenure.
LDF President and Director-Counsel Janai Nelson speaks on the legal challenges to banned books, LDF’s legacy of using the law in order to transform society, and why progress toward racial justice requires we tell the truth about our nation’s history.