Groups say they'll sue Georgia over 'divisive concepts' ban

Georgia State Capitol
The Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Georgia. (Wikimedia Commons)

Education and civil rights groups said Friday that they will sue to overturn Georgia’s law banning the teaching of certain racial concepts, claiming it violates First Amendment rights to free expression and 14th Amendment rights to equal protection.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Education Association and the Georgia Association of Educators sent a notice to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr notifying Carr of their intent to sue in federal court.

Kara Richardson, a spokesperson for Carr, said the office had received the letter but declined comment, as did a spokesperson for state schools Superintendent Richard Woods. Both Carr and Woods are up for reelection on Tuesday.

Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year signed House Bill 1084 into law. The measure, based on a now-repealed executive order from President Donald Trump, attracted opposition from teacher groups and liberal groups. But Republicans said it was absolutely necessary to ban critical race theory, a term stretched from its original meaning as an examination of how societal structures perpetuate white dominance to a broader indictment of diversity initiatives and teaching about race.

Banned “divisive concepts” include claims that the U.S. is “fundamentally or systematically racist,” that any people are “inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and that no one “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race.” Bills using identical language have been proposed in dozens of states — backed by the Center for Renewing America, a think tank led by former Trump administration officials.

School districts must respond to complaints, and people who don’t like the outcome can appeal to the state Board of Education. If the board finds the school district in the wrong, it could suspend some or all of its waivers from state regulation.

Suits have been filed challenging similar laws in states including Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma and New Hampshire.

Opponents of the law argue that it’s classroom censorship, saying it limits the ability of educators to teach accurate history and the ability of students to receive an accurate education. The opponents said Friday that it violates a First Amendment right for students to receive information and ideas and also violates First and 14th Amendment prohibitions on punishing people for speech.

“As a classroom teacher I am confused and concerned about how this law will impact not only my classroom, but my career,” history teacher Jeff Corkill said in a statement. “Like many educators in Georgia, I can’t figure out what I can or can’t teach under the law, and my school district’s administrators don’t seem to understand the law’s prohibitions either.”

Other Georgia laws pushed through this year in a flurry of conservative election-year activity included allowing the state athletic association to ban transgender girls from playing high school sports, codifying parental rights, forcing school systems to respond to parental challenges of books and increasing tax credits for private school scholarships.

“Efforts to expand our multicultural democracy through public education are being met with frantic efforts in Georgia to censor educators, ban books, and desperate measures to suppress teaching the truth about slavery and systemic racism,” Georgia Association of Educators General Counsel Mike McGonigle said in a statement.