The radical right-wing – which includes some of our fellow citizens, even our neighbors – has recently taken up more questionable causes that affect millions of Americans. Whatever their motives, many on the right are spreading very dangerous, anti-democratic disinformation cloaked in innocuous-sounding groups, movements and rhetoric.
Moms for Liberty, despite its positive name, is unfortunately one of these groups. Founded in Florida in 2021, Moms for Liberty is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an anti-government extremist group and compares it to the hateful “pro-segregationist parent groups that flourished in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.” As a far-right organization, Moms for Liberty “engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement.”
Some of the activities of Moms for Liberty, which began by fighting COVID safety measures in schools, include the following:
- banning books
- limiting discussion about race and LGBTQ identities, including critical race theory (CRT) and social emotional learning
- populating local school boards with conservatives
In addition, Moms for Liberty maintains that, because public schools are funded by the government, they are “government schools” that “indoctrinate and sexualize children with a progressive Marxist curriculum.” The group is waging war on teachers’ unions, which they consider to be terrorist organizations, and is attempting to eliminate the US Department of Education. Moms for Liberty has occasionally been linked with other extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, the White nationalist group associated with the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol; they have formed a political action committee; and in 2022 Moms for Liberty has endorsed over 500 school board candidates across the country.
Moms for Liberty is especially focused on issues around gender identity and sexuality, including opposing gender affirming care for transgender children. The group is also fighting the related proposed change to Title IX: “schools would not be permitted to adopt or apply a one-size-fits-all policy that categorically bans transgender students from participating on teams consistent with their gender identity.” Further, the group uses the term “groomer” to refer to someone who talks to a child about gender switching and sexuality.
Distortion and disinformation concerns and other alarms
Many of Moms for Liberty’s stances rely on distortion and disinformation.
Critical race theory. CRT, as defined by Encyclopaedia Britannica, is an “intellectual and social movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour.” Activists on the right accuse public school teachers of attempting to indoctrinate their students by teaching CRT, but the theory is so complex that it is primarily taught at the college and law school levels – not in elementary or high schools. Moms for Liberty undoubtedly knows this but rages against CRT to create fear among like-minded parents and, tragically, promote racism and white privilege.
Eliminating the Department of Education. Moms for Liberty is on the bandwagon to eliminate the US Department of Education. The group argues that our public schools are “government schools,” in the most negative sense, and that school control should be “given back to the states.” While public schools in the US are funded by taxpayer dollars, they are already regulated by state and local laws and school boards, not at the national level like they are in other countries. Eliminating the Department of Education, as proposed recently by GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, would not improve this situation at all but would instead have an adverse effect “on Pell Grants, student loans, and other financial aid operations.” Is this the intent? If these federal programs, which help millions of Americans, were to stay in effect even if DOE were eliminated, they would have to be moved to other federal agencies.
Transgender girls in public schools. One major objective of Moms for Liberty revolves around the supposed fear that girls do not feel safe in public school restrooms because of the presence of transgender girls (whom many on the right believe could be predatory boys). This fear has been expressed by Moms for Liberty founder Tiffany Justice in a C-SPAN2 About Books interview: “[we’re concerned about] many of our girls, how safe they feel in the bathrooms at their school.” The number and percentage of transgender persons is growing because there is generally more openness to the recognition (by both girls and boys) that they are not comfortable with their gender as assigned at birth. This growth trend is feeding the fear of Moms for Liberty and others, and these unfounded fears are fueling disinformation. The truth, however, is that transgender persons have much more to be afraid of from their fellow Americans than do cisgender Americans. The amplification of the purported “threat” posed by transgender people is a grave disservice on the part of Moms for Liberty to millions of their fellow citizens, but especially to transgender girls and women, to their families and friends, and to the teachers and administrators of our public schools.
Transgender girls in school sports. On the issue of transgender girls in school sports, disinformation is also rampant. A 2021 article in Scientific American lays out the facts. In addition to the prevalence of violence against transgender persons, not perpetrated by them, as well as the higher rates of suicide and homelessness, the argument falls flat because “the vast majority of female athletes are cisgender, as are the vast majority of winners.” This became clear in a February 2020 lawsuit filed by three cisgender girls in Connecticut. The suit, focusing on high school track leagues, argued that transgender girls have an unfair advantage and should be compelled to play on boys’ teams. The opinion piece neglected to state that two days after the lawsuit was filed, one of the cisgender girls actually beat one of the transgender girls in a state championship. While Moms for Liberty was not involved with this lawsuit, their July summit in Philadelphia had a strong anti-trans agenda.
Other concerns. Groups like the SPLC are alarmed by Moms for Liberty for several reasons, in addition to the distortion and disinformation of their rhetoric. First, the movement has taken hold and metastasized like a cancer across the country. Concerned citizens are seeing the radical, anti-government and anti-diversity views take over their local school boards. Second, Moms for Liberty has the support of many prominent officials and candidates, mostly in the Republican Party: the twice-impeached, criminally-indicted ex-President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Betsy DeVos (former US Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration), Florida Sen. Rick Scott, and extreme right-wing Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Third, on several occasions, Moms for Liberty has advocated violence and harassment in the pursuit of their goals. Fourth, Moms for Liberty is wearing as a badge of honor SPLC’s designation of their group as extremist. Finally, according to a June 2023 MSNBC report, “Moms for Liberty is part of a shrewd push to wrest control away from parents and educators. We are witnessing a brazen attempt to put power in the hands of political activists who hold values detrimental to protecting families and teachers.”
Any hope for dialogue?
If we step back and take a wider view of the concerns articulated by Moms for Liberty, can we possibly find any common ground or talking points rather than just further deepening the divide and polarization?
- Can we agree that good, caring parents on both the left and the right (and in-between) want the best for their children? Is there a way for those on all sides to constructively dialogue about any perceived differences between white, conservative parents, parents of color, parents of a child struggling with his or her sexual identity, or children of a gay or lesbian couple?
- What is the real purpose of Moms for Liberty trying to convince Americans that a complicated high-level concept like CRT is being taught at the elementary and high school levels? Moms for Liberty in Tennessee filed a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Education complaining that certain books violated a new, highly restrictive law against the “promotion” of certain matters around race and sex. In the complaint, Moms for Liberty recommended that students read The Making of America rather than a number of books, including Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story about Bridges’ experiences integrating an elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. The Making of America, written in 1985 by conspiracy theorist and John Birch Society supporter W. Cleon Skousen, argues that slave owners, not slaves, were the “worst victims of slavery.” Skousen also claims that our American Founders wanted to free slaves but felt that most slaves were unprepared for freedom. Moms for Liberty’s complaint was rejected by the state of Tennessee, but their battles against long-standing curriculum decisions will no doubt continue. Is there a way for those on the left to help tone down conservatives’ “panic” around CRT?
- Book banning is related to the CRT issue. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll shows that “most Americans, including nearly half of Republicans, oppose banning certain books in schools.” Americans do not like book banning in part because many of the volumes on the “hit list” have provided inspiration, comfort and positive examples to millions over the years. Why are Moms for Liberty members so affronted by these books? Can those on the left somehow help Americans who are troubled by these stories? Also, have those who object to these books actually read them with a sympathetic heart toward someone different from themselves? If so, what precisely is abhorrent about these volumes? How would they feel if a book from which they took great comfort or inspiration was taken off their libraries’ bookshelves?
- Is there a way for Americans on the left to help those on the right find a way to sympathize with the struggles a child or young adult might be going through when he or she feels he or she is in the wrong body? Can those on the left arrange for Moms for Liberty members to speak sympathetically with a child or parent in this situation or a transgender girl’s friends? What is the real attitude among public school girls about using a restroom with a transgender girl? Is it possible that those friends develop negative attitudes and fear because of their parents’ attitudes instead of their own experience?
- Relatedly, why are so many of the issues raised by Moms for Liberty centered on sexuality or sexual issues? Is there an “ick factor” around sexuality that those on the right need to examine and those on the left can help to alleviate? How can liberals convince activists on the right that the goal of proposed changes in our culture and in the law is not to take anything away from parents and children – rights, traditions, identities, etc. – but rather to level the playing field for others who have legitimate reasons to challenge the status quo? If data and facts about racism, discrimination and systemic disadvantages do not move the conversation, can stories, honest conversations and relationships?
Americans who do not support the goals and tactics of Moms for Liberty must be cognizant and strategic. The rhetoric in use by such groups has led to intimidation, harassment and violence. Freedom of speech as guaranteed by our Constitution does not give blanket permission to physically injure our fellow citizens.
For all our sakes, we as a nation must come – soon – to a time when none of us feels that an organization like Moms for Liberty is “necessary” – because we have found a way to constructively address our concerns around parenting, meeting each others’ rights and needs, and resolving our differences peacefully. Let us all strive for productive dialogue about the issues that concern us – before more people get hurt.
For Further Reading
Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Vintage Books, 2012.