House Republicans are asking the Biden administration’s Education Department why it opened an investigation into scholar and commentator Christopher Rufo over his decision not to use the personal pronouns “ze” and “zer.”
Rufo, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank who is on the board of the New College of Florida, spoke Wednesday on Capitol Hill to members of the House Anti-Woke Caucus.
Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, Harriet Hageman of Wyoming and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia sent a letter Wednesday to Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant education secretary for civil rights, asking for a response by Sept. 20 explaining the investigation of Rufo.
The three House Republicans write:
The original complaint alleges that opposition to ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ programming is a violation of federal law. In effect, it argues that conservative political beliefs are illegal. OCR’s [The Office of Civil Rights’] decision to investigate the New College of Florida based on a clearly politically motivated complaint calls into question its commitment to impartially enforcing civil rights law.
In a Sept. 8 letter to New College President Richard Corcoran, an Education Department lawyer wrote that the agency was investigating allegations that the Florida school engaged in unlawful discrimination based on disability.
The lawyer also told Corcoran that the Education Department was looking into “whether the college failed to take appropriate steps to ensure that its communications with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities [are] as effective as its communications with others.”
The agency’s investigation of Rufo stems from an anonymous complaint Aug. 22. One accusation is that Rufo “mocked and misgendered New College’s Director of [the] Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence (OOIE), Rosario-Hernandez, after ze was summarily fired.”
House Republicans’ letter to the Education Department asks, “What specific allegations in the August 22 complaint is [the Office of Civil Rights] investigating?” It also asks, “How many complaints into Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs) has OCR received in 2023?” and “Does OCR agree that failing to use Ze/Zer pronouns is evidence of discrimination?
“As members of the House Anti-Woke Caucus, we have called for similar reforms in federal agencies, including at the Department of Education and received significant public support,” the letter says.
House Republicans created the Anti-Woke Caucus earlier this year. In his meeting Wednesday with caucus members on Capitol Hill, Rufo talked about a range of ways that the Left has pushed a culture war.
“I’m under a federal civil rights investigation right now because I refused to call the former DEI director of New College [of] Florida by a ze/zer pronoun,” Rufo told the Republican lawmakers. “I’m not going to do it. The Biden administration [says] maybe that’s a civil rights violation. OK, fine. Put me in prison. I don’t care.”
Rufo explained that if someone opts out of the gender system altogether, they would be referred to as a ze/zer rather than a she/her or he/him.
“The principle is simple,” Rufo said. “I don’t want to offend this person. Maybe she’s a nice person, obviously somewhat troubled, having some difficulties. But I’m not going to let them make me lie, because if they can force me to lie about the basic fabric of reality, man and woman, they can force me to lie about anything.”
Banks, one of the signers of the letter to the Education Department, noted that it would go out Wednesday.
“I would recommend that my colleagues that are here either sign it or write a letter themselves,” he said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Rufo to New College’s board of trustees to help reverse the school’s previous focus on critical race theory, gender studies and other left-leaning issues.
The Education Department’s investigation of the scholar is based on the anonymous Aug. 22 complaint alleging that instances of Rufo’s speech constituted unlawful discrimination, GOP lawmakers said.
The letter from Banks, Hageman, and Greene notes:
The complaint alleges that New College trustees and administrators violated civil rights law by, among other things, failing to use ‘ze/zer’ pronouns while referring to New College’s now former Diversity, Equity [and] Inclusion director, canceling the ‘Africana Studies Living Learning Community’ and the ‘Pride Studies Living Learning Community,’ and firing New College’s ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dean and Chief Diversity Officer.’
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