FILE - Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita

(The Center Square) – Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita issued a legal opinion that warns public schools should not be promoting Black Lives Matter and should adopt neutral policies to make sure they don’t run afoul of the law.

“Black Lives Matter is unequivocally a political organization,” Rokita said in a statement. “Promoting or displaying some politically based materials while prohibiting the promotion or display of others could create a liability for schools and could violate the First Amendment.”

The opinion was issued at the behest of state Sen. John Crane, R-Brownsburg, and state Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland.

“At a time when too much of a student's educational experience has been politicized, this opinion provides needed clarity about the underpinnings of the [Black Lives Matter] movement, as well as reinforcing the importance of fair-minded presentations of all subject matter in our school classrooms,” Crane said. “Our children in Indiana deserve a high-quality education that inspires their critical thinking in the pursuit of a society that truly dignifies all people."

The main part of the opinion, issued Thursday, looked at two things: what teachers can and can’t say in the classroom, and what materials can be posted in the classroom and elsewhere in the school.

Teachers’ speech during work hours is part of their “official duties” and, therefore, is not protected speech, the opinion read.

“Courts have held that educators are paid to teach the curriculum adopted by the school district, not substitute their own opinion or lessons, as children have no choice but to listen to the teacher’s speech,” it read, citing a 7th circuit court of appeals decision, Mayer v. Monroe County Community School Corporation (2007).

“It is not a First Amendment violation to require a teacher to teach the adopted curriculum and prohibit the teacher from covering external topics or advocating personal viewpoints,” it read, adding it is “improper for teachers to indoctrinate children to their own social and political values.”

On materials displayed in a classroom or elsewhere in schools, Rokita urged schools to have “neutral policies” so as not to be seen as promoting Black Lives Matter or another particular political group.

“School corporations should be mindful to adopt neutral policies regarding the display of signs and other materials that are applied in a uniform and consistent manner to not favor any political group or organization,” the opinion read. “They must ensure if they permit signs, displays, and other expressive materials or speech promoting one political organization, such as BLM, they must allow the same for all political and similar organizations. Likewise, if the school organization prohibits one political or similar organization from displaying signs or other expressive materials or speech, it must prohibit all political and similar organizations from displays, promotions, and exhibitions in its schools and on its premises, including BLM and other similar organizations.”

The opinion goes on to read that treating material from different political groups in a uniform way “will reduce concerns of First Amendment violations or potential claims about arbitrary and capricious decision-making. It will also ensure the focus remains on the mission of our schools – educating our children.”

“Everyone should be treated equally and with respect,” Davis said. “However, the political activism and controversial ideology of this group is dividing communities rather than uniting them. While schools should provide a well-rounded education that includes differing views and perspectives, it's not their role to persuade students to believe in one ideology over another.”

Rokita's opinion also reminds schools the American flag must be displayed in every classroom.

“It is important to note that Ind. Code § 20-30-5-0.5 provides that the United State flag shall be displayed in each classroom of every school in a school corporation,” the opinion read. “This specific symbol has been clearly authorized as not only appropriate but mandated. … In addition to the display of the flag, students must be afforded the opportunity to voluntarily recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.”

The opinion focused on the most prominent group in the Black Lives Matter movement: Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in 2013.

While the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found in July 2020 the Black Lives Matter group was not a partisan political organization, that finding was based on the group’s activities at the time it was written, the opinion read. In October 2020, it noted, the organization formed a political action committee, explicitly endorsing Democratic candidates and actively urging support for the Democratic Party and Joe Biden.