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N.H. DOJ asks court to dismiss lawsuit over 'Freedom from Discrimination' law

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The state of New Hampshire is asking a federal court to dismiss a case challenging a law that prohibits certain kinds of teaching on racism, sexism and other forms of oppression.

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The law, championed by Republican lawmakers and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, was included in the state budget that Gov. Chris Sununu signed last summer.

It prohibits public schools from teaching that one group of people is inherently racist, superior, or inferior to people of another group. It also limits the kinds of training about these issues offered by public employers, including schools.

In December, the state’s major teachers’ unions, along with civil rights groups, parents and school staff sued the state over the law. They allege that it has a chilling effect on classroom discussions related to the issues included in the law, violates free speech and is too vague for teachers to know what they’re allowed to teach.

In a response issued on Friday, lawyers for the state argued that the law does not violate speech protected by the First Amendment. It cites a U.S. Supreme Court case on the rights of public employees, noting the Supreme Court’s opinion that ‘the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.’

And they say guidance issued by the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Commission for Human Rights is sufficient to help teachers understand what they can teach.

A hearing in the case is likely to come this summer. The case could be dismissed, proceed, or be sent to the state supreme court.

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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