The Oklahoma legislature just passed a bill guaranteeing the free speech rights of professors and students in Oklahoma higher education. It has been sent to Governor Kevin Stitt for his signature.

The sponsor of HB 3543, Rep. Chad Caldwell, (R)-Enid, said the goal is to protect students who may not have the same viewpoints as their classmates and professors.

“We shouldn’t have a professor worried about getting fired if they say this or that,” Rep. Caldwell said. “We shouldn’t have a student that has to worry about, if I don’t take a Republican view or a liberal view that I’m going to get an ‘F’ on a paper. That shouldn’t be something that’s going on at any of our colleges or universities.”

The legislature apparently forgot that they banned the teaching of “critical race theory” in 2021 and discouraged teaching the facts about the horrific Tulsa Massacre. Kathryn Schumaker, the Edith Kinney Gaylord presidential professor in the department of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma, wrote at the time that the law banning discussion of racism would make it impossible to teach history honestly on campus.

She wrote in The Washington Post:

The law is aimed at eradicating the supposed scourge of critical race theory (CRT) from state classrooms and campuses, a cause that has become a right-wing talking point over the course of the past few months. Oklahoma educators and academics have denounced the law, noting that it will deter teachers from discussing Oklahoma’s fraught racial past of Native American dispossession, lynching and racial terror.

For example, as we mark the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre in late May, state political leaders are making it clear that they would like Oklahomans to leave the past behind. In 2001, a state commission report called for reparations and public recognition of the legacy of the massacre. But this new law undermines efforts to reckon with our collective past, and it will chill classroom discussions of this history. H.B. 1775 instructs educators to emphasize that although the perpetrators of the Tulsa Race Massacre did bad things, their actions do not shape the world we live in — even though White rioters murdered scores of Black Tulsans and destroyed more than 1,200 buildings in the Black Greenwood neighborhood, annihilating decades of accumulated Black wealth.

Meanwhile, a seventh-grade science teacher at Jenks Middle School was fired for refusing to remove a rainbow-colored flag from a display of flags in his classroom.

Oklahoma suffers from a severe case of schizophrhrenia or hypocrisy.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the free speech law is used to defend teaching critical race theory in higher education.

Thanks to John Thompson of Oklahoma for the updates from his state.