Idaho pursues that most elusive quarry — critical race theory

It might be good for us and our kids to reflect on the discriminatory treatment Idahoans have faced so we don’t repeat that misconduct, writes guest columnist Jim Jones

Boise State campus
The Micron Business and Economics building at Boise State University on March 20, 2021. The Idaho Legislature voted in 2021 to slash the university's budget by $1.5 million after some Republican lawmakers voiced fears BSU was promoting diversity, inclusion and social justice programming at the school. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho politicians have been doggedly engaged of late in a quest to find and defeat a cunning and elusive adversary —critical race theory.

Republican legislators spent weeks this past session, trying without success to define it, then just gave up and prohibited its presence in public school classrooms. Much like the chimeric Sasquatch, they could not tell us what their prey was or where it could actually be found, but they knew it had to be stopped.

The intrepid hunters killed public education funding bills until they were able to conjure up legislation preventing critical race theory from invading classrooms. Despite testimony of local school officials and State Board of Education members that critical race theory was not being taught in public schools or colleges, the legislators charged forward to stop it.

Rather than defining critical race theory in House Bill 377, the lawmakers invoked Article IX, section 6 of the Idaho Constitution and prohibited educators at all levels from directing or compelling students to adhere to certain tenets relating to “sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin.” That constitutional provision contains a strict prohibition against religious instruction in public classrooms, but it says absolutely nothing about the other classifications.

If the purpose of invoking the Idaho Constitution was to demonstrate that our constitutional framers did not approve of targeting discriminatory governmental actions against certain socio-demographic groups, that original document may not have been the best example to use. Our Constitution specifically sought to prevent certain groups from enjoying rights of citizenship. 

As initially adopted by Idahoans in 1889, Article XI, section 3 prohibited those believing in “patriarchal, plural or celestial marriage” from voting or holding civic office. Chinese or Mongolians born outside the country and Native Americans who had not “adopted the habits of civilization” were similarly excluded. We later removed those repugnant restrictions from the Constitution, one at a time — Native Americans in 1950, Chinese in 1962 and celestial marriage believers in 1982.

It might be good for us and our kids to reflect on the wrongful, discriminatory treatment our ancestors visited upon these groups so that we don’t repeat that kind of misconduct.

Having passed their bill to prohibit the non-existent indoctrination of Idaho kids, the Legislature proceeded to appropriate funds for public education. Boise State University’s appropriation was slashed by $1.5 million as punishment for allegedly making a student uncomfortable about his race. However, an independent study by a Boise law firm found no basis for the claim. The complainant was apparently a non-student whose complaint was based upon unverified hearsay, hardly enough to support $1.5 million worth of punishment.

But, of course, that is not the end of the story.

Idaho’s lieutenant governor, having just created chaos by sneaking around the governor’s back to revoke any remaining governmental mask requirements in the state, could not resist jumping into the critical race theory fray. Pistol-packing, wannabe-governor Janice McGeachin, teamed up with Rep. Priscilla Giddings, who wants to be lieutenant governor and whose main claim to fame is recently outing and ridiculing a teenage sex abuse victim, to examine indoctrination in Idaho schools.

The group they co-chair, the Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education, held its first meeting May 27. It failed to produce evidence of Idaho kids being indoctrinated, although several task force members groused about what was happening in California and Washington classrooms. 

Task force members discussed what might constitute the much-feared and maligned critical race theory but it is not clear they reached an understanding as to the prey they were chasing.

If they don’t know for sure what they are hunting, it might be easier to just chase after Bigfoot.