Media Contact

Janna Farley,

December 20, 2021

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 South Dakota opposes Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed legislation that would censor academic discussions about American history and race and sex in South 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 South Dakota campaigns director. “Gov. Noem’s proposed legislation is a direct affront to the constitutional rights of teachers and students across South Dakota by restricting conversations around race and sex in our schools. This proposed legislation is intended to inflame a political reaction, not further a legitimate educational interest.”

The First Amendment protects academic freedom and the right to share ideas, including the right of individuals to receive information and knowledge. This proposed legislation oversteps the state government’s legitimate authority by imposing curriculum restrictions that should remain with local districts. Instead of encouraging learning, Gov. Noem’s proposed legislation effectively gags educators and students from talking about issues of the most profound national importance, such as the impact of systemic racism and sexism in our society. Simply put, this is a blatant attempt to suppress speech that some may disfavor.

“Gov. Noem’s proposed legislation treats honest and frank discussions of race and sex – among other things – as a threat and attempts to censor classroom conversations and interferes with the academic freedom of South Dakota educators,” Skarin said. “The ability to discuss and debate ideas, even those that some find uncomfortable, is a crucial part of our democracy. Gov. Noem’s proposed legislation demonstrates the very need for the types of education our legislature is trying to prohibit.”

The ACLU of New Hampshire today filed a federal lawsuit challenging a similar classroom censorship law in New Hampshire. This is the third federal lawsuit in the country to facially challenge one of these bans, including the ACLU’s recently filed lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s classroom censorship law. The New Hampshire lawsuit argues the classroom censorship law’s vague language unconstitutionally chills educators’ voices under the 14th Amendment and prevents students from having an open and complete dialogue about the perspectives of historically marginalized communities, as well as on topics concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

About the ACLU of South Dakota

Based in Sioux Falls, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South 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 the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South 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 South Dakota.