Education , Law & Principles

Jonathan Small | May 3, 2023

Response to MLK legislation is telling

Jonathan Small

Oklahoma law currently prohibits teaching children that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”

This year, lawmakers have advanced legislation to have public schools provide lessons on the “natural law and natural rights principles that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., drew from that informed his leadership of the civil rights movement.”

It’s not a coincidence that many who opposed the aforementioned anti-racism law now oppose the MLK bill, with some going so far as to claim you can’t teach about King without violating the prohibition on teaching racial superiority.

One suspects King would be surprised to hear that.

The 2021 law, House Bill 1775, is not controversial, although opponents pretend otherwise. It targeted tenets of Critical Race Theory that have been broadly rejected since the repeal of Jim Crow laws. Most Oklahomans do not believe children should be taught that any race is superior to another, or that one is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” based on skin color.

As supporters of HB 1775 noted, most Oklahomans believe individuals should be judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin or similar characteristics. That’s an idea famously espoused by King in 1963, and that speech is one reason King has been treated with great reverence ever since. It’s also why some groups now find King problematic.

That reality has become apparent in the comments of some opponents of House Bill 1397, which would require Oklahoma public schools to focus more on King’s work.

In a recent press release, state Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, said the proposed curriculum tries to “boil down the civil rights movement to a set of principles one author attributes to one palatable Black man.”

But the bill does not prevent teaching about other civil rights leaders. And, somehow, I don’t think King or those who worked with him felt he was viewed as “palatable” during his lifetime given the response he often received, which ended with his assassination.

State Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, argued the two statutes “will be in direct conflict with one another if the goal is to create a repository for accurate information about the civil-rights movement.”

In reality it is quite possible to teach children that society once embraced theories of racial superiority, and came to reject them, without teaching children to embrace a worldview of racial superiority today.

King was not perfect. But he took a bold stance on a great moral question of his time, at great personal risk, and promoted moral persuasion over violent responses to injustice.

That some would now downgrade King’s work, out of fear their complaints about HB 1775 will be exposed as political bunk, sadly shows moral blindness did not end with the downfall of Jim Crow.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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