Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

New Hampshire’s new ‘freedom from discrimination’ law banning certain teachings about race and class in public schools is legally sound and not too vague, the Justice Department argued in a federal court filing Friday. .

In a rebuttal to a pair of lawsuits filed in New Hampshire U.S. District Court in Concord against Commissioner Frank Edelblut and the state last December, the department sought to dismiss claims that the law is too vaguely defined. so that teachers follow it, and that it is an attack on educators’ right to speak.

“Plaintiffs’ claims of vagueness fail because the new anti-discrimination provisions are not vague on their face,” the department wrote. “The wording of the provisions, particularly when coupled with guidance issued by the Department of Education, Human Rights Commission and Department of Justice, demonstrates that the new anti-discrimination provisions provide a standard discernible and objective as to what is prohibited.”

Passed by the state budget last year, the law prohibits public school personnel and public employees from teaching that people of one race, gender or other identifying class are “inherently superior or inferior” to those of another class; that people of one class are “inherently racist” or oppressive against another class; or that people of different classes should receive different or unfavorable treatment.

Supporters said the law prevents students from being targeted as oppressors because of their race or gender; opponents said it stifled nuanced conversations about privilege, oppression and prejudice.

Two state teachers’ unions filed lawsuits against the law in December, arguing it created an unconstitutional ‘chilling effect’ by including ill-defined prohibitions, forcing teachers to avoid topics altogether to escape professional consequences. potential. Under the law, teachers can face legal action in higher court and the Human Rights Commission, and can be disciplined by the National Board of Education for violating the law.

Friday’s filing is the state’s first response in either lawsuit. The Justice Department initially argued that the lawsuit was improper, pointing to case law suggesting that a federal court could only strike down the law if it was a violation of federal law — not state law.

The state has also pushed back against allegations of First Amendment violations, arguing that teachers and other government employees are not entitled to the same free speech protections if speaking is part of the “official duties” of the government. ‘teacher.

“If the answer is yes, then the speech is not protected by the First Amendment,” the department said in the lawsuit. These official duties included what is taught to students, the state argued.

The state cited a 2010 United States Circuit Court of Appeals case, Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of Tipp City Exempted Village School District, which held that: “[a]s with any other person in the community, [teachers have] no more freedom of expression to dictate the school curriculum than [they have] getting a platform — a teaching position — in the first place to communicate [their] favorite list of books and teaching methods.

And the state has objected to claims that the state law is unconstitutionally vague, saying the language of the law clearly sets out four categories and prohibits teachers “from teaching, instructing, or inculcating to any public school student. And in an area of ​​the law that might be considered vague – prohibiting teachers from instructing that anyone of a certain race, sex or other class is “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously” – the state has pointed to a “Frequently Asked Questions” sheet published by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice that seeks to define the word “inherent.”

In its filing, the state noted that its FAQ sheet stated “unambiguously” that the law does not prevent the instruction on racism; topics that make people uncomfortable; historical events “which persist to the present day”; or how psychological development can create implicit bias.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit pushed back the filing on Tuesday.

“The state’s response blatantly ignores the real chill that has occurred in New Hampshire classrooms since this law took effect,” wrote plaintiffs Andres Mejia, director of diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice for the Exeter Area Cooperative School District, and Christina Kim. Philibotte, Manchester School District’s chief equity officer, in a joint statement. “This law chills the very kind of diversity, equity and inclusion work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that every student is seen, heard and feels a sense of belonging within their school community, especially that New Hampshire becomes more diverse.”