Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – On Monday, attorneys from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma appeared in court to request an injunction to stop the further implementation of HB 1775 in Black Emergency Response Team v. Drummond. The lawsuit, filed alongside pro bono counsel Schulte, Roth and Zabel LLP, challenges HB 1775, Oklahoma’s classroom censorship law, which severely restricts university faculty, public school teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in the classroom. The plaintiffs argue that such restrictions stifle free speech and discriminate on the basis of race, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Monday’s oral argument comes more than two years after a group of multiracial teachers and students, the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP, the American Indian Movement (AIM), Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU-AAUP), and the Black Emergency Response Team (an organization of OU students) filed a lawsuit to block HB 1775.
“This vague and overbreadth law has a profound chilling effect on educators’ free speech rights and academic freedom. It violates students’ fundamental right to information and ideas and is constructed in a manner that is clearly racially discriminatory,” said Maya Brodziak, counsel with the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our country needs to acknowledge and reckon with its history of systemic racism — this includes being able to teach and talk about these concepts in our schools. Laws like HB 1775 work to deny us from learning the history and lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; women and girls; and LGBTQ+ people.”
Lawyers argued that HB 1775 is currently being used to threaten teachers with the suspension or revocation of their license in retaliation for teaching banned topics, while schools found to be in violation of the law are at risk of being penalized through the accreditation process. If the law were to stand, civil rights advocates argue that teachers would be barred from teaching basic facts about American history, while students would be denied the opportunity to adequately learn about civil rights struggles. The defendants argued that the temporary injunction should be denied and that the lawsuit should be dismissed.
“For over two years, HB 1775 has left the education of students in Oklahoma in limbo as teachers and professors across the state are forced to guess at what they can and cannot teach regarding race, gender, and sexual orientation,” said Megan Lambert, legal director for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “To this day, we continue to witness politicians’ attempts to erase Oklahoma’s history by discouraging a complete and open dialogue about the heritage and cultures of diverse communities. This has come in the form of threats to teachers’ licenses, downgrades to school districts’ accreditation, and bans on library books. Meanwhile, students are unable to obtain critical information about our state and nation’s history, and students of color, in particular, are denied an inclusive education that reflects their own experiences. Today’s arguments enforced our firm stance that all young people deserve to learn a complete history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination.”
“The US Supreme Court has already called public schools ‘nurseries for democracy.’ Laws like HB 1775 undermine that and the goal of developing well-educated and well-rounded students who are capable of discussing sensitive topics and engaging in challenging conversations respectfully,” said Douglas Koff, partner at pro-bono so-counsel Schulte Roth & Zabel. “This case isn’t just important to the students and teachers of Oklahoma, but communities across the country.”
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.
About the ACLU of Oklahoma – The ACLU of Oklahoma works to secure liberty, justice, and equity for all Oklahomans through advocacy, litigation, and legislation, leading by example and fueled by people power. Learn more at https://www.acluok.org.
About the ACLU – For more than 100 years, the ACLU has worked in courts, legislatures, and communities to protect the constitutional rights of all people. With a nationwide network of offices and millions of members and supporters, the ACLU takes on the toughest civil liberties fights in pursuit of liberty and justice for all. For more information on the ACLU, visit https://www.aclu.org.
About Schulte Roth & Zabel – Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (srz.com) is a full-service law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC and London. As one of the leading law firms serving the financial services industry, the firm advises clients on investment management, corporate and transactional matters, and provides counsel on securities regulatory compliance, enforcement and investigative issues. The firm also has a long history as a leader in pro bono legal work and a legacy of contributing to the greater good. SRZ embraces its professional and moral obligations to seek justice through the legal system.
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