16 States and 20 Organizations Submit Amicus Briefs Supporting Brave Educators Represented By Southeastern Legal Foundation Challenging Anti-Racist Training and $313k Attorney Fee Penalty
(SPRINGFIELD, MO/ATLANTA, GA; May 22, 2023): In a show of overwhelming support for the First Amendment and two brave educators represented by Southeastern Legal Foundation, 16 states led by the State of Missouri and 20 organizations (listed below) submitted 11 amicus briefs to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Henderson v. Springfield Public Schools.
In August 2021, Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley, two educators in Springfield, Missouri, bravely stepped forward and with the help of Southeastern Legal Foundation filed the first-in-the-nation lawsuit against a mandatory district-wide “anti-racism” training, alleging that through the training the school district compelled their speech and discriminated against them because of their views that America should be colorblind.
The educators are appealing a ruling by the federal district court that they could not bring their First Amendment claims and the district court’s subsequent award of $313,000 in attorney fees to the school district defendants. The district court based the ruling on its findings that the school district never enacted a formal policy requiring its employees to articulate a specific message on anti-racism and that the educators did not suffer adverse employment action.
The challenged training was textbook anti-racism. In fact, Ms. Henderson and Ms. Lumley 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 they needed to commit to becoming anti-racists as part of their professional and personal development.
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, including the death of George Floyd and cartoons about “systemic racism” and “understanding white supremacy” that asserted our nation was founded on 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.”
As both the educators and amici point out, awarding a defendant attorney fees in a civil rights lawsuit—especially a First Amendment challenge—is an unusual step and turns the civil rights fee-shifting statute on its head. “In nearly 50 years of bringing lawsuits under §1983 civil rights law, SLF has never faced attorney fees sanctions for challenging unconstitutional government action at any level,” explained SLF Litigation Director Braden Boucek. He continued, “This case rises above politics, as evidenced by the varied backgrounds of the 36 amici supporting our clients. They understand that the outcome of this case will affect every American’s civil rights.”
This is a case of first impression about whether a school district can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion among its employees. SLF General Counsel Kimberly Hermann added, “As both SLF and amici explain, American citizens must be able to challenge government officials when they infringe on constitutionally protected rights without the fear of financial penalties.”
The following 16 states and 20 organizations submitted or signed on to 11 amicus briefs supporting Southeastern Legal Foundation’s clients Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley: Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Americans for Prosperity, Alliance Defending Freedom, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE),
Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies, Reason Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri, Goldwater Institute, Kansas Justice Institute, Mississippi Justice Institute, Show Me Institute, Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, Institute for Free Speech, Manhattan Institute, Parents Defending Education, Mountain States Legal Foundation, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Pacific Legal Foundation, Cato Institute, America First Legal Foundation, and Center of the American Experiment.
Filed party briefs and amicus briefs can be found at SLFliberty.org.