- Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued an opinion last week that in many cases, instruction of critical race theory at public colleges could violate state and federal law.
- Rutledge, a Republican running for state governor, wrote that could infringe on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 14th Amendment, and the Arkansas Constitution.
- But one prominent civil liberties watchdog in condemned Rutledge’s interpretation, saying it diminishes academic freedoms and First Amendment rights.
The country is inherently racist or sexist. For months, conservatives across the U.S. have deemeda national scourge. The four-decade-old academic theory, in part, teaches that racism is a ingrained in many institutions. Last year, it came under new national scrutiny after former President Donald Trump barring federal grantees from teaching certain concepts. State policymakers Trump’s mantle and attempted to excise critical race theory from classrooms. One such effort by one member of the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents, a Republican candidate for that state’s governorship, .
In Arkansas, one Republican state representative, Mark Lowery,attempting to limit the teaching of racism and related topics. None passed the state legislature that became law in May prohibits many state entities — but not public K-12 schools and colleges — from teaching “divisive concepts.”
In June, Lowery requested that the attorney generalthe legality of teaching anti-racist concepts and critical race theory at public schools and colleges.
Rutledge returned last week and said that an “effort to take account of race in aaccords benefits or opportunities or creates a hostile environment” would likely violate civil rights laws, Title VI, and the Equal Protection Clause 14th Amendment. Such an effort would include overt racial segregation, rtereotyping, and scapegoating. Her , but it will likely give lawmakers political fodder to attempt to do so.
In her opinion, Rutledge wrote that curricula or programs that other specific ideas — including that an individual, under their race, is oppressed, or oppressive, or should feel discomfort or resentment — could foster a “racially hostile environment.”
But thedoes not preclude teaching about historical events and themes, and critical race theory may have “some legitimate pedagogical uses” in a college setting, she wrote.
“Further, because a theory need not be accepted as an integrated whole, it is possible thatcould generate discrete insights that may be useful for certain limited purposes,” Rutledge wrote.
Her language was much harsherdescribing the opinion, denouncing critical race theory as “a neo-Marxist ideology that distorts and rewrites history.” And in that statement, Rutledge was absolute that it violated the law.
One prominent civil liberties organization is not as sure. In a recent online essay, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said that Rutledge misconstrued legal rulings that affirmed broad free speech rights forrelated to scholarship and teaching.
FIRE said an instructor could cross from protected speech into harassment, but “that is a high bar to meet,” and Rutledge’s opinion did not establish it.
“If the bar for harassment is set so low that the mereis sufficient to establish an unlawfully hostile environment, the risks to open discussion in class become obvious,” FIRE said.