SALT LAKE CITY — House and Senate Republicans passed resolutions against the teaching of critical race theory in Utah schools and supporting the idea of declaring the state a "Second Amendment Sanctuary."
The votes capped off a dramatic day on Utah's Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers walked off the floor in protest and conservative activists demonstrated at a news conference of Black community leaders.
As the House was voting on its resolution on critical race theory, every single Democrat in the chamber walked out — leaving Republicans to pass it alone. House Minority Leader Brian King complained that Democrats were not consulted on any of the resolutions and they objected in particular to the one about critical race theory.
"What this about is an attempt or a first step in assuring that my history and the history of many people of color are not taught in the school system," said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, the legislature's only Black lawmaker.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the resolution merely called on Utah's school system to evaluate their curriculum.
"We’re calling on the state school board to look at the curriculum and determine what are the right parameters for this discussion to happen," he said.
Critical race theory is the idea that systemic racism is built into the fabric of American society. It is not currently taught in Utah schools. Lawmakers have been flooded with emails and voicemails from constituents opposed to teaching it. Governor Spencer Cox declined to put it and the Second Amendment Sanctuary bill on the agenda for Wednesday's special session, which was largely about COVID-19 federal money.
But Republican leaders on Capitol Hill felt the issue was urgent, so they took the rare step of calling themselves into an extraordinary session to pass resolutions. Because of the way they were doing it, the House and Senate had to run their own resolutions.
Outside on the Capitol steps, members of the Utah Educational Equity Coalition stood and called for the resolutions to be put on hold.
"There seems to be so much misinformation out there about what CRT is and isn’t," said Michelle Love-Day, a member of the group.
As Love-Day spoke, protesters opposed to critical race theory stood behind them holding up signs condemning it. Coalition members then stepped between Love-Day and the protesters in an effort to act as a buffer. The protesters raised their anti-CRT signs over their heads.
"CRT is a very divisive and destructive theory," said Monica Wilbur, who held a sign opposing CRT. "It turns people into the oppressed or the oppressors."
Opponents of the theory argue that it elevates one race over another. Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, who sponsored the Senate version of the resolution, said it was his desire to have the legislature study the issue. But he did not support CRT being in the curriculum. He acknowledged there are different definitions of what it is.
Resolutions are merely statements from the legislature and have no force of law, but both issues are expected to return in the 2022 session.
Betty Sawyer, the head of Ogden's branch of the NAACP, said they need to be invited to the table to be heard.
"Why wouldn’t you include a diversity of people to talk about race?" she told FOX 13. "That baffles my mind to have a conversation without that."
The legislature also accepted $1.65 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money, banned face mask mandates in the fall in Utah schools, extended the state of emergency for drought, and passed a resolution recognizing Utah's Asian American and Pacific Islander community and condemning anti-Asian hate crimes.
Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said she hoped that resolution serves as "a call to action as well as meaningful and transformational change."
Asked about considering it on the same day the legislature passed resolutions supporting a ban on any discussions of critical race theory, Senate President J. Stuart Adams insisted they were not exclusive.
"You can’t elevate and you surely can’t demean another person because of their race," he told reporters. "They’re so consistent. It is the same."
On the Second Amendment Sanctuary, the legislature is stating its desire to protect Utahns' gun rights in the face of the Biden administration. The resolution's sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, acknowledged they have seen no specific federal policies yet to object to.
"Admittedly there are none, but unfortunately there’s been some saber-rattling in Washington D.C.," he said.