A wide array of prominent conservative voices, gathering Saturday at a conference for the Christian right, said the state’s future was in jeopardy and urged voters to stand up to Critical Race Theory and other “anti-biblical” ideas they warned were permeating classrooms, businesses and government.
Over the course of the full-day “Salt and Light Conference,” hosted by the N.C. chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, members of the state legislature, candidates running in the 2022 U.S. Senate race, and others active in conservative politics took the stage at Temple Baptist Church in Mount Airy and said that under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and President Joe Biden, both North Carolina and the country were headed on “a dangerous path.”
“There’s never been a more critical time in America than right now,” warned Senate leader Phil Berger, in a video shown to attendees on a large screen. “Our world is polarized, and it only continues to get more and more divided. Our values are attacked, day after day, our freedoms often becoming an afterthought.”
Critical race theory, which has recently become a high-priority target for Republicans in the General Assembly, was a recurring subject of warnings about America’s future throughout Saturday’s conference.
According to the UNC-Chapel Hill history department, critical race theory is a “scholarly framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life.” The academic framework proposes that systemic racism has been and continues to be a part of the nation’s history, The News & Observer previously reported.
Proponents of the theory say it illuminates the impacts of systemic racism, but North Carolina’s conservative political leaders and organizers pushed back against that notion, arguing instead the theory was being widely taught in classrooms and was harmful for young children to learn.
“It’s not you that have brought racism into America today, it’s the liberals that have turned us into the most liberal time, and the most racist time in our nation in the last 50 years,” said Chris Hughes, chairman of the Citizens for America Foundation. “They’ve injected something into our culture, into our churches, into our seminaries, into our public schools, called critical race theory.”
“If you don’t know about critical race theory, you better get educated today, because it is a plague,” Hughes told the audience. “It is destroying our nation. It’s dividing us. It teaches people, particularly our children, to look at the world through one thing, and that’s the lens of skin color.”
Having claimed that critical race theory is being taught in schools, North Carolina Senate Republicans passed House Bill 324, or the “Ensuring Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Schools” Act in August.
Among other things, the bill prohibits schools from promoting the notion that the United States was founded “for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.” The bill also prohibits promoting the concept of white privilege, which is the belief that white people in the United States have an unfair advantage over other people due to their race, The N&O reported.
Earlier this month, Cooper vetoed HB 324, saying in a statement that it “pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.”
During a panel discussion, GOP lawmakers said that even though the bill had been vetoed, parents and voters opposed to critical race theory have a forum available to them to voice their concerns: school boards.
“Just because that directive is coming out of Raleigh, it doesn’t mean that your school system has to teach that,” said Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican. “Go to your school board, talk to your members, let them know pleasantly and persistently that you do not want that indoctrination of your children.”
Pushing back on “what’s happening in our schools” is critically important, said Rep. David Willis, a Union County Republican.
“The best way to do that is to shine a light on what’s happening,” Willis said.
In August, a task force created by Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to monitor classrooms for critical race theory instruction, and to solicit complaints from parents, teachers and students, presented a report to the Senate Education Committee that included more than 500 submissions.
On Saturday, Willis claimed that teachers were promoting the theory and don’t want parents “to know what’s going on in the classroom.”
“We as parents do not give them the authority to teach moral values to our children, and we are going to continue to fight with the lieutenant governor, with the legislature, both our friends in the Senate and the House, and we’re going to continue to fight back on this until it’s completely removed from our school systems,” he said.