Civil rights groups argue that the United States president’s order violates free speech rights and hurts attempts to tackle discrimination.
Three civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging United States President Donald Trump’s executive order that prohibits federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from offering certain diversity trainings that the president deems “anti-American.”
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the complaint in federal court in Washington, DC, along with the National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance. The lawsuit argued that Trump’s order violates free speech rights and strangles workplace attempts to address systemic race and sex discrimination.
he National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance both have federal contracts and plan to apply for future ones.
The executive order “unconstitutionally forces Plaintiffs to choose between censoring speech on these important issues or forfeiting any opportunity to enter into a federal contract,” the groups argued in the complaint.
Trump’s executive order, signed last month, called out workplace trainings that explore deep-seated racism and privilege that the administration says could make white workers feel “discomfort” or guilt. The president ordered the US Department of Labor (DOL) to set up a hotline to investigate complaints about training sessions that Trump has called “anti-American” and “blame-focused”.
Trump has said he is targeting trainings based on “critical race theory”, the idea that racism has permeated US history and institutions. At the first presidential debate, Trump said such trainings are “teaching people to hate our country”.
The directive uses a 55-year-old presidential order spurred by the civil rights movement that sought to ban discriminatory practices at companies that contract with the federal government. Critics say Trump’s order twists President Lyndon B Johnson’s 1965 initiative into a vehicle for white grievances.
“The executive order smacks of a totalitarian endorsement of white supremacy,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said at a virtual press conference. Morial called the order a “direct attack on our mission”.
According to the lawsuit, the National Urban League has a federal contract that includes developing diversity and inclusion training programs for the DOL’s apprenticeship programs.
The DOL says the order does not ban “unconscious bias” training that discusses “pre-conceptions, opinions, or stereotypes” that people might have about others. But it prohibits training that that implies anyone is racist or sexist “by virtue of his or her race, sex, and/or national origin”.
The lawsuit, however, said the wording of the order is overly broad and is already having a chilling effect on diversity training. Some organizations have asked that words including “systemic racism” and “white privilege” be banned from training, the complaint said. It also cited the University of Iowa’s decision to suspend its diversity efforts for fear of losing government funding.