Critical race theory: Experts say new law doesn’t ban it


Mississippi lawmakers spent more than seven hours in early 2022 debating a bill they say would ban the teaching of critical race theory. They passed it after brushing aside the emotional objections of every black lawmaker and the fact that no K-12 state class taught academic theory.

During the campaign trail and in recent speeches, several Republican officials have since bragged about their hard work and focused on the issue.

But the recently updated Mississippi Code, the state’s book of laws that reflects bills passed in the 2022 legislative session and will soon be distributed statewide, does not include the term “theory.” criticism of race” — or even language prohibiting its teaching, experts say.

The language of the new law states that no university, community college or public school “shall order or otherwise require students to personally affirm” that “any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior or that individuals should be treated unfavorably on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, religion or national origin”.

Governor Tate Reeves, President Philip Gunn and others have touted that Senate Bill 2113, passed in the 2022 session, bans the teaching of critical race theory. The bill created a new section of law at 37-13-2 in the legal code. A general index of the legal code says, “Critical Race Theory, Prohibition,” then quotes the section of the code. But the code section itself does not use the term “critical race theory”.

“This law does not prohibit critical race theory, and the courts generally do not turn to the index finger to interpret a law,” said Yvette Theresa Butler, a professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. and the only person in the state to focus. entire class on critical race theory.

READ MORE: Inside Mississippi’s Only Course in Critical Race Theory

At the Neshoba County Fair earlier this year, Reeves proclaimed to the generally conservative crowd, “Here in Mississippi, we are leading the way and leading the conservative movement. We banned critical race theory and we banned vaccination mandates. »

In response to questions about critical race theory not being in the code, Cory Custer, the governor’s deputy chief of staff sent out a statement: “Mississippi Today has consistently missed the point on this issue. You have become so fixated on the label of “critical race theory” that you have completely failed to understand that the law forbids teaching the fundamental principles of this radical indoctrination. It’s almost like having blinders on. Passing legislation that simply states that critical race theory is prohibited is not enough.

“This legislation goes beyond labels and targets the discriminatory teaching that is the foundation of critical race theory – that students are inherently superior or inferior because of their gender, race, ethnicity, of their religion or national origin.”

But Butler said the language of the controversial law “actually prohibits the exact opposite of what CRT explores. CRT is just another theoretical method used to explore the role of law in perpetuating and correcting inequality.

“CRT explores how the law has been and still is used (even if written in a neutral — non-discriminatory — way) to perpetuate racial inequality,” Butler said. “Therefore, it is factually inaccurate to say that anyone teaching CRT directs or forces students to adopt a belief that any race (gender, religion, etc.) is inherently superior or inferior.”

Critical race theory has typically been taught as a college-level class at the university level and is designed to explore the impact of race on various aspects of society. When the bill was debated earlier this year, state Department of Education officials said no public K-12 schools in the state offered critical courses on race theory.

A critical race theory course will be offered again at Ole Miss Law School in the spring semester of 2023, Butler said.

Every African-American member of the Legislative Assembly opposed passing the bill in the 2022 session. In the Senate, all 14 African-Americans walked out before the final vote in an unprecedented move.

While many black lawmakers argued that the bill’s language didn’t make sense, they still voted against it saying they were concerned it might scare some educators into teaching the true history of the state.

Democratic State Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, House Minority Leader and longtime lawyer, agrees with Butler’s interpretation of the law. The law threatens to cut funding to any school that violates its terms, although Johnson said there was no enforcement mechanism in the proposal.

“This law does not prohibit the teaching of critical race theory,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t stop teachers who are brave and want to challenge their students from doing so.”

The bill passed by lawmakers earlier this year did not include the term “critical race theory” in its text. The only mention was at the bottom of the last page of the bill where, in nondescript characters, it read “ST: Critical Race Theory: Ban.” The Mississippi Legislature website also displays what is known as the bill’s short title “Critical Race Theory, Ban” if the bill is called.

Various right-wing groups and politicians have argued that critical race theory attempts to create racial conflict and attempts to place an undue burden on young white children. Butler said that was not the case.

“Unfortunately, I had many students in my law school civil rights class who were late,” Butler said. “They received a very limited formal education (like me) on the pre-war era, the causes of the Civil War and secession, the Reconstruction era and the civil rights movement. A civil rights course in law school aims to discuss civil rights laws and case law and how to use them to address legal injustices.

“While some of the history of civil rights is covered in law school, it is not a substitute for a history course. I am concerned what the last two years of messages will do for students’ understanding, not only of history, but of the valiant struggle waged by advocates of many races, sexes, genders and religions to strengthen our understandings of democracy, freedom and equality. protection.”

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