As a young child, I lived in the tiny village of Timbo, Arkansas, and while it has been a long time since I’ve lived there, some aspects of those humble beginnings I refuse to let go of. Namely, a healthy love for the music of Johnny Cash.
I’m fortunate to have never been behind the bars of Folsom Prison. I haven’t built a car from spare parts. My 50th wedding anniversary last September is evidence that I’ve never been to Jackson to rekindle a lost romance. But I can say, with confidence, that one particular line from a song of Johnny Cash’s resonates with me: “I’ve been everywhere, man.”
To gauge my amount of domestic travel, I was recently called to a podium at a major airline terminal, where they congratulated me on reaching 2 million lifetime miles. And that’s just on one airline. I earned an LL.M. in public international law from the University of London and served for more than a decade as international vice president for a Swiss-based human rights organization, which required more than a few trips across the pond. I’ve seen the beauty of Paris and Vienna.
All of this to say: I believe that the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth. I might be biased, but I’ve been to enough places to reach an informed conclusion.
Not everyone agrees with that idea, however, and an alarming trend is happening in our country right now that goes beyond simple disagreement; it’s an outright assault on our nation’s history with no room for dissent.
In 2019, the school board of Albemarle County, Virginia, enacted a policy based on critical race theory — a radical idea that teaches students to see people through racial and religious stereotypes. The school board went so far as to declare that every core subject must include CRT-based instruction. The practical application of this is shocking.
Alliance Defending Freedom, where I serve as president and CEO, is suing the Albemarle County School District on behalf of five families for the civil rights violations it is perpetrating against these students and their parents.
One Latina student was told that students of color don’t live in big houses. A mother of a biracial son raised concerns with the school that focusing on her son’s race would make him uncomfortable and negatively change his view of his ethnic heritage. The school told her they would just create a “safe space” for students of color to discuss race away from white students — in other words, segregate students based on their race. While the school board purports to be teaching “anti-racism,” in reality, it is imposing racism on its students.
Students cannot effectively opt-out of lessons that violate their conscience and religious beliefs because the school intends to incorporate CRT-based instruction in every subject and at every grade. Students who express a differing viewpoint — namely, that we are all created equal — can be labeled “racists” and subjected to discipline.
Of course, while making those ad hominem attacks, CRT proponents at the same time pretend that CRT isn’t part of the instruction or argue that the core philosophies of CRT are somehow not what they are teaching. This equivocation makes any sort of debate on the topic like nailing Jell-O to a tree.
But one of the core philosophies of CRT is that racism is encoded in the DNA of America itself. It sees the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as irredeemably evil and built to sustain oppression. Sadly, Albemarle County is not the only school system teaching students how to be racist and view America’s foundation as evil.
As with any believable lie, there is some amount of truth. We cannot possibly look beyond the stains on our nation. Many of our Founding Fathers owned slaves. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, it included the infamous “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which essentially treated slaves as three-fifths a person. Our country fought a long, bloody war because some state leaders refused to liberate these humans from inhumane captivity. I was a young boy when Martin Luther King, Jr., orchestrated the Montgomery bus boycott and a teenager when he was assassinated. I’ve witnessed truly despicable actions toward Black Americans in my lifetime. We need to teach this history to our children — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But the lie perpetuated by CRT is that our national DNA is oppression. This is fundamentally false. Our nation was built on the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
When those rights were proclaimed on July 4, 1776, none of these fundamental promises were in place. We did not practice equality perfectly. Our rights were not enshrined in any fundamental document. And self-government was a dream that was just beginning. These were the dreams and aspirations of our country, and the story of American greatness is the story of how we have persistently pursued these dreams in the midst of many mistakes.
Heroes of the civil rights movement saw that our nation was not perfect but that its laws could be improved. And they worked to improve them. CRT does the opposite.
We must teach our children to see our history clearly and see that, in spite of our faults, we can work together to build up rather than dismantle. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Michael P. Farris is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal).