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Censorship Takes One Step Back this Month

A judge recently ordered that teachers at the site of the historic "Little Rock Nine" may teach Black history without being censored by Arkansas politicians. Image source WIkipedia

Judge Lee Rudofsky, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, delivered a partial strike against the national tide of Black censorship this month. 


Arkansas Gov. and former Trump helper Sarah Huckabee Sanders designated Critical Race Theory as “prohibited indoctrination” in the state of Arkansas.

Republicans have been laboring to suppress Black American-related U.S. history ever since former president Donald Trump threatened to cut federal funding to schools that taught information from the 1619 Project, which challenges the orthodox study of historically revered slave-owners, segregationists, and historic “heroes” and systems that worked to maintain a divided America. Three years after Trump’s attack, Republican idealogue and former Trump employee Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders kicked off her culture war, mischaracterizing Critical Race Theory as the “political indoctrination of Arkansas' schoolchildren” and a “brainwashing,” “left-wing political agenda.” Last year Huckabee signed into law the 2023 LEARNS Act, which directly targets CRT by imposing a state review of “any items that may … promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory.

Opponents of the new law, including Rep. Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, told reporters there was no evidence to support CRT being harmful to or indoctrinating Arkansas public school students. 

“I don't think critical race theory is a problem in schools in Arkansas,” McCullough said, despite Sanders’ attempt to sweeten the censorship by tying it to teacher pay raises.  

“The court’s ruling has essentially gutted Arkansas’ classroom censorship law to render the law virtually meaningless.”

The law ultimately creates a category of “prohibited indoctrination” and sets up a censoring process to hide certain information from students. It also tries to hijack and redefine CRT by falsely claiming it encourages “students to discriminate against someone based on the individual's color ... race ... or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law,” despite CRT being an academic study approach that has never attempted to do that in its roughly half-century of existence. 


The NAACP Legal Defense Fund more accurately defines CRT as an academic and legal framework “that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society — from education and housing to employment and healthcare.” Critical Race Theory also “recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice,” and is “an academic response to the erroneous notion that American society and institutions are ‘colorblind.’” Above all, CRT teaches “racism is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce” related anomalies such as “Black Americans’ higher mortality rate, outsized exposure to police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, denial of affordable housing, and the death rates of Black women in childbirth.” 

Plaintiffs in the suit before Judge Rudofsky included students taking AP Black History courses, who complained the new law resulted in portions of their work disappearing or being inadvertently deleted/lost in cyberspace due to changing/re-entering assignments. It also included teachers who lost access to grant money when the state arbitrarily declared the source material censored and illegal. 


Laux Law Group, who represented plaintiffs, called the LEARNS Act “a brazen, political attempt to silence speech and expression” that the governor and education secretary personally had it out for. 


“The LEARNS Act violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” attorneys said. “It is unworkably vague and oppressive, and it discriminates on the basis of race. Section 16 is just another front in the culture war being waged by right-wing ideologues.” 


But earlier this month, Federalist Society member and Trump appointee Rudofsky bucked a career of upending women’s rights and partially sided with plaintiffs, ordering that Central High School teachers cannot be disciplined or prevented from teaching topics regarding Critical Race Theory. Central High School is the site of the historic “Little Rock Nine,” the Black students who defied school segregation by enrolling in the all-white school in 1957 heralding the desegregation of Arkansas public schools. 

Trump appointee Judge Lee Rudofsky walked back the GOP’s crusade for censorship this month.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin attempted to play down the censorship goals of the Learns Act after Rudofsky issued his partial injunction. 


“Today’s decision confirms what I’ve said all along. Arkansas law doesn’t prohibit teaching the history of segregation, the civil rights movement, or slavery,” Griffin said, in spite of the law claiming to create an entirely new class of “prohibited indoctrination” for Black history teaching methods.   


David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, countered that Rudofsky’s ruling “makes clear that students’ right to receive information and ideas was violated.” 


“The court’s ruling has essentially gutted Arkansas’ classroom censorship law to render the law virtually meaningless,” Hinojosa said. “Governor Sanders and Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva had already walked back the law in their response briefing, stating that Critical Race Theory could be taught in Arkansas’ classrooms.” 


Hinojosa added Rudofsky further ensured students won’t be “forced to learn a false version of this country’s history of discrimination or continuing struggles with racial justice,” of the kind Sanders promoted in her inaugural address.” 


He said the ruling “should also provide teachers greater comfort in teaching the truth, and challenging students to broaden their perspectives.” 


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