A few parents complained this morning, during the public comment section of a regular meeting of the Maryland State Board of Education, that their children were being indoctrinated as early teens by educators teaching lessons and assigning storybooks dealing with racial bias issues or individuals whose gender identity doesn’t necessarily match their sex.
The parents, identified by name in the video recording, would like the board to enforce the teaching of math equations, science investigations, and history, barring—or at least curtailing—the teaching of gender identity, sexual orientation, and critical race theory in school.
Board President Clarence Crawford thanked the women for their comments and moved forward with the meeting’s agenda. But in some ways, the public comment section of the Maryland board meeting is the tip of an iceberg that includes parents who make the claim that their rights to instill in their children their own sense of morality are being violated by teachers who provide instruction or assign reading material that deals with diversity training, sexual identity, or orientation.
But in substantially well-argued opinions, federal courts have generally disagreed with that claim. In Florida, for example, the office of Gov Ron DeSantis, a Republican, says the governor will appeal US District Judge Mark Walker’s recent ruling that blocks the private employer provisions in the state’s “Stop WOKE Act.” Judge Walker said the law violates free speech protections under the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause for being impermissibly vague. “Recently, Florida has seemed like a First Amendment upside down,” he wrote.
He explained that one reason he considered Florida’s new legal trends upside down is that the First Amendment generally makes it harder for the government to restrict speech while private players, such as employers, can restrict speech as much as they want. The acronym “WOKE” in Florida’s law stands for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.” It prevents employees and students from being forced to attend any activity, such as diversity training, that might make them feel uncomfortable or guilty about their race because of historical events.
Public schools aren’t like private employers—they’re government actors under the law. But this isn’t a Florida school, on behalf of the government, restricting free speech; rather, this is a state law that restricts the viewpoints that can and can’t be expressed by school teachers. When the government restricts speech based on the viewpoint, it has to make the case for why it’s justified in restricting the expression of that viewpoint. Not liking it isn’t a sufficient argument, so the circuit court is unlikely to reverse Judge Walker’s ruling.
Although the notion of gender identity, sexual orientation, religions, and different cultures and ways of life may make up part of the school curriculum, along with dictatorships, holocausts, slavery, and other topics, restricting what teachers can teach is not the answer and violates the principle of academic freedom, regardless of what effect it has on the First Amendment or parents’ rights.