Evelyn Nieves: As Moms for Liberty Spreads, So Does School Turmoil
For Capitol and Main, Evelyn Nieves breaks down some of the mess the Moms have been spreading around the country.
What began in Florida in 2021 with three conservative women (two former school board members from neighboring counties and a current school board member) now claims 130,000 members in 300 chapters in 47 states. Underscoring the nation’s deep divisions over race, sex and gender issues, Moms for Liberty, which started with school board fracases over mask mandates, is roiling communities large and small, red and blue, with vicious fights over what should be taught in schools.
Opposition is growing too. As Moms for Liberty has exploded across the country, so has its branding as a “non-partisan” group of “joyful warriors.” Reports that members engage in harassing critics, even threatening them, keep mounting. A GOP darling, its agenda includes filling school boards with conservatives, a boilerplate Republican strategy for winning wider elections. Under its “parents’ rights” banner, Moms for Liberty pushes core conservative policies: bans on public school education about sex, diversity, LGBTQ issues and the role of race and racism in society. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an avowed conservative, was an early ally, codifying its positions into laws (most recently the “Let Kids Be Kids” laws, including a ban on all discussion of gender through the 12th grade).
Critics say Moms for Liberty (and similar parents’ rights groups it has spawned) has led to a craze in school book bans, whether a majority of parents want them or not. It links parents to booklooks.org, founded by a former Moms for Liberty leader, which rates books based on “inappropriate” passages. PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression, found a 33% spike in school book bans in 2022-2023 (to more than 3,300 in total), when Moms for Liberty’s book campaign took off, over the previous school year. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation’s leading civil rights watchdog, has labeled Moms for Liberty “extremist,” a label that made headlines and cast a gimlet eye on the organization’s mom-and-apple-pie persona. Now the Heritage Foundation is suing the Biden Administration on Moms for Liberty’s behalf, looking for collusion between the White House and the Southern Poverty Law Center.