May 17th, 2023 3 Minute Read Amicus Brief by Ilya Shapiro

Amicus Brief: Henderson v. School Board of Springfield R12

Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley are two teachers in the Springfield, Missouri, public school system who were required to undergo mandatory training on “anti-racism” in the fall of 2020. Participants were told they needed to commit to anti-racism, which had a “proactive” element to advocate for political and social change. The training further taught that colorblindness and “white silence” were tools of white supremacy, white people were privileged, and equality was harmful. The training session began with instructions to “stay engaged,” “speak your truth,” and “acknowledge YOUR privileges.” It featured a slideshow and a series of videos, cartoons about “systemic racism,” and “understanding white supremacy.” They were told “systems of oppression” were “woven” into the “very foundation of America,” and that white supremacy is a “highly descriptive term for the culture we live in.” At various points, trainees were directed to break into small groups to discuss these concepts before being asked to return to a larger group discussion where they were told if they didn’t speak, they’d be called upon. The training closed with an “anti-racist solo write” where trainees were supposed to write out what steps they will take to become an anti-racist.

Henderson and Lumley, who attended separate trainings, both spoke out in small and large group sessions, but when they expressed certain disagreements, the trainers corrected them. For instance, when Lumley said that all races had some individuals who were racist, her trainer told her that black people cannot be racist. When she said she wasn’t born with privilege, the trainer told her she was privileged, and that she needed to reflect on herself more. When Henderson said she thought Kyle Rittenhouse was defending himself, she was told she was wrong, and that Rittenhouse had murdered an innocent person. After their views were shamed and rejected, both then self-censored by remaining silent. Henderson, who had additional equity training requirements, ultimately began answering questions in contravention of her own views, such as affirming that she knew that she would not be seen as an unbiased ally by a person of color because as a “white person,” she would be perceived as having power and privilege.

The two filed a First Amendment civil rights complaint, alleging compelled speech, viewpoint discrimination, and unlawful conditions of employment. The federal district court granted summary judgment for the school district, characterizing the training as one where plaintiffs were free to air their own views and finding that, because the district didn’t have a formal policy requiring that employees become anti-racists and no adverse employment actions were taken, the plaintiffs lacked standing. The judge went so far as to call the case “frivolous,” containing “political undertones,” and awarded attorney fees to defendants in the amount of $312,869.

Now on appeal before the Eighth Circuit, MI has joined the Institute for Free Speech on a brief arguing that the school district’s mandatory training program promoted a deeply controversial ideology that advocates unlawful behavior and that included intentionally coercive features. These features violated the First Amendment, which forbids compelled speech and coercive ideological indoctrination. Standing doctrine favors pre-enforcement challenges to government speech burdens and plaintiffs’ claims were neither frivolous nor unfounded: it’s plainly illegal for a school district to indoctrinate its employees to subvert constitutional and other legal norms. Moreover, given the judge’s bias, the case should re-assigned to a new judge on remand.

Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow and director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by DNY59/iStock


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