New York (AP) — Three civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging President Donald Trump's executive order that restricts federal agencies, as well as contractors and grant recipients, from offering certain diversity training that the president deems “anti-American."
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C., along with the National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance. The lawsuit argued that Trump's order violates free speech rights and strangles workplace attempts to address systemic race and sex discrimination.
The National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance both have had federal contracts and plan to apply for future ones.
The executive order “unconstitutionally forces Plaintiffs to choose between censoring speech on these important issues or forfeiting any opportunity to enter into a federal contract for the provision of goods or services or to receive federal funds as a grant recipient,” the groups argued in the complaint.
Trump’s executive order, signed last month, called out workplace trainings that explore deep-seated racism and privilege that could make white workers feel “discomfort” or guilt. The president ordered the Labor Department to set up a hotline to investigate complaints about training sessions that Trump has called “anti-American” and “blame-focused.”
Trump has said he is targeting training based on “critical race theory,” the idea that racism has permeated American history and institutions. At the first presidential debate, Trump said such training is “teaching people to hate our country.”
The directive uses a 55-year-old presidential order spurred by the Civil Rights Movement that sought to ban discriminatory practices at companies that contract with the federal government. Critics say Trump's order twists President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 initiative into vehicle for white grievances.
The lawsuit said the order is already having a chilling effect on racial sensitivity training, citing the University of Iowa's decision to suspend its diversity efforts for fear of losing government funding.
The order has had a deeper effect across government agencies. The Justice Department has suspended all diversity and inclusion training. The government has also canceled training programs at the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Veteran Affairs.
The Labor Department is also using the 1965 presidential order to target companies, including Microsoft and Wells Fargo, over public commitments to expand or bolster Black and Hispanic representation in leadership roles. The government opened inquiries into both companies, warning them against using “discriminatory practices” to meet their goals.