Every student should have the right to receive an equitable education and have an open and honest dialogue about America’s history. That’s why the ACLU of North Dakota opposes House Bill 1508, legislation that would censor academic discussions about American history and race in North Dakota public school classrooms.
“Education is a tool of empowerment put to its highest use when teachers and students are given the full scope of their constitutional rights to engage in comprehensive, meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of North Dakota campaigns director. “House Bill 1508 is a direct affront to the constitutional rights of teachers and students across North Dakota by restricting conversations around race in our schools. This bill is intended to inflame a political reaction, not further a legitimate educational interest.”
The First Amendment protects the right to share ideas, including the right of individuals to receive information and knowledge. This bill oversteps the state government’s legitimate authority by imposing curriculum restrictions that should remain with local districts. Instead of encouraging learning, House Bill 1508 effectively gags educators and students from talking about issues of the most profound national importance, such as the impact of systemic racism in our society. Simply put, this is a blatant attempt to suppress speech about race that some may disfavor.
“This bill treats honest and frank discussions of race and its place in American history as a threat and attempts to censor classroom conversations,” Skarin said. “This is particularly egregious in consideration of the North Dakota government’s turbulent history with Indigenous people who have been here since before colonization. House Bill 1508 demonstrates the very need for the types of education our legislature is trying to prohibit.”
A copy of the ACLU of North Dakota’s written testimony to the Joint Technical Corrections Committee is below.
About the ACLU of North Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of North Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes South Dakota and Wyoming. The team in North Dakota is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women and LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of North Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of North Dakota.