(The Center Square) – A federal judge is considering a lawsuit challenging a New Hampshire law that limits how teachers discuss racism and discrimination in the classroom.
The lawsuit, filed by the National Education Association of New Hampshire and American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, seek to overturn the so-called “divisive concepts” law that prohibits teaching about systemic racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in public schools and state-funded programs.
The NEA’s lawsuit was merged by the court with another legal challenge filed by the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire, another teachers’ union.
On Wednesday, New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Sam Garland asked U.S. District Court judge Paul Barbadoro to dismiss the case, arguing that there are new grounds for plaintiffs’ claims that the law is unconstitutionally vague or violates free speech.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that the policy is “discriminatory” as well as “confusing and ambiguous” and claim it would result in censorship in school classrooms.
“It fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited; it invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. and tramples upon important freedoms and protections of those who must attempt to comply with it,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in a response to the AG office’s motion to dismiss.
Supporters of the so-called “Right to Freedom from Discrimination and Public Workplaces and Education” law argue that it will strengthen the state’s anti-discrimination laws and improve race relations. The law allows disciplinary action to be taken against educators who violate the policy, and encourages parents to file complaints.
The state Department of Education has set up a website explaining how the new law works, including information on how to file complaints.
The policy mirrors an executive order issued in 2020 by then-Republican President Donald Trump in response to GOP-stoked concerns about the teaching of Critical Race Theory.
That order was rescinded by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed the controversial law in 2021 as part of the two-year state budget, has also defended the new requirements.
Sununu’s decision not to veto the provision prompted at least 10 members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion to resign in protest.
Teachers unions say the new law has also increased the possibility of violence against teachers. They have pointed to an extremist group, Moms for Liberty, which offered a $500 “bounty” for parents who file complaints against teachers who violate the new law.
At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Barbadoro said he would issue a ruling in the case within 60 to 90 days.