U.S. District Court Strikes Down “Banned Concepts” Law

Civil rights leaders, public educators, parents applaud major victory for an honest, inclusive public education in New Hampshire

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Concord, NH – The U.S. District Court of New Hampshire ruled today that New Hampshire’s classroom censorship law (“banned concepts”) is unconstitutional. The law has been the subject of intense legal and legislative debate since it passed as part of HB 2, the budget trailer bill, in 2021. It created a chilling atmosphere in classrooms and public workplaces regarding discussions around race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, and more. The law was challenged in court by a broad coalition of educators and advocacy groups, including the ACLU, NEA, AFT, and two DEIJ Directors for public school districts.

The Court’s conclusion reads: “The Amendments are viewpoint-based restrictions on speech that do not provide either fair warning to educators of what they prohibit or sufficient standards for law enforcement to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Thus, the Amendments violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Statements from plaintiffs and a copy of the U.S. District Court ruling, can be found here.

This is the first decision in the country striking down a classroom censorship law that applies to K through 12 public schools.

Reactions from other public educators, civil rights leaders, advocates, and parents below:

Anthony Poore, President & CEO, NH Center for Justice & Equity: “Today’s court decision is a victory for our public school educators, administrators, and those that seek to protect a teacher’s freedom to teach an accurate and honest history of the Granite State and the Nation.”

Heidi Carrington Heath, Executive Director, Seacoast Outright: “Today’s court decision is an essential win for LGBTQ+ youth and families in the Granite State at a critical moment. This is also a win for an honest education, and for all of our educators, administrators, and staff. It ensures all students (including LGBTQ+ students) are able to feel seen, heard, and valued in our classrooms. Granite Staters are once again aligned with New Hampshire values in the classroom, and free to teach and learn.”

James McKim, President, Manchester NAACP: “We welcome this court ruling with open arms. The banned concepts law failed to consider that this nation was founded on racism and that we must work to correct the inequities in education, health, wealth, and criminal justice. Today’s ruling allows us to move forward, acknowledge the history of our country, and work toward treating all people with dignity and respect.”

Ronelle Tshiela, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter New Hampshire: “Today’s federal court ruling is a monumental victory for racial justice. Striking down the banned concept law reaffirms our commitment to teaching an honest and comprehensive account of American history. This ruling empowers educators to accurately recount our nation’s past, ensuring that stories of systemic injustice are rightfully acknowledged and preserved. We move one step closer to dismantling systemic racism and fostering a future rooted in equity and understanding.”

Sarah Robinson, Education Justice Campaign Director, Granite State Progress: “This court decision is a victory for what public education advocates have known all along – the banned concepts law is intentionally vague and has a chilling impact on critical classroom discussions. Our children deserve the freedom to learn about the mistakes of the past so they can build a better future for all of us. Every child deserves to feel seen and heard in their classroom, regardless of race, gender identity, national origin, ability, or family structure. We are grateful for this court decision, and urge lawmakers to work on strengthening racial, gender, and ability justice in our classrooms instead of putting in laws to block it.”

Michelle Veasey, Executive Director, NH Businesses for Social Responsibility: “As a network of over 200 businesses and organizations focused on sustainability and corporate responsibility, NHBSR works to support and inspire workplace environments that encourage inclusivity and equity.  Our businesses know that when employees feel valued and can bring their whole selves to work, they more fully contribute to the business function and engage in problem solving at a much higher level. Today’s businesses invest in diversity, equity and inclusion education and training because they understand that diverse perspectives and open-minded exploration supports innovative thinking and opportunity.  The business community does not shy away from our difficult past, but learns from it.  Our educators need to have the same support in order to create a stronger future workforce. For this and the reasons outlined in our original letter of opposition to the Divisive Concepts legislation in 2021 (HB544), we are encouraged by this court ruling, for the sake of our children, our future employees and our economic prosperity.”

Jen Bisson, Founder, Support Our Schools NH: “I am thankful for the court decision striking down the banned concepts law. As a parent of two young children, I want my daughters to get the best education possible. And that is not possible if their teachers are censored by politicians. We need to give our teachers the respect that they deserve and treat them as the professionals that they are. We are only short-changing the education of our children when laws like banned concepts are allowed to take root.”

Carisa Corrow, Founder, Educating for Good: “As a facilitator of tough conversations about school improvement, I often use the question, “What’s the worst that can happen if we try this idea?” Since passing the banned concepts language into law, we’ve seen some of the worst things that have happened to our public schools in recent history: our Commissioner of Education has targeted individual teachers’ pedagogy, bounties have been issued by extremists to identify teachers who are teaching truth in schools, and difficult conversations have been chilled across the state. The long-term effects would have been much worse the longer this law was in place, as our students would not be prepared to live and compete in an economy made up of people with diverse perspectives. The court ruling allows free discourse and debate in our public schools without intimidation. Sounds like a win for democracy to me.”

Mary Wilke, Education Working Group, Kent Street Coalition: “Every student in our schools deserves a full and accurate history education. Teachers are professionals who enter their line of work because they are devoted to building the best possible outcomes for our children. They are held accountable by their administrators and school boards, and they can be trusted to teach in a fair and honest way. We are so thankful that the banned concepts law has been struck down, and teachers can get back to focusing on teaching students.”