Unexplained firings? Contrived panics over 'critical race theory' and children's books? You might have a chapter on your hands

Have your local school board meetings turned into incoherent shouting matches? Are grown adults snooping around in the children’s section of the library looking for hidden propaganda?  

Sorry to say it: You might have a Moms for Liberty chapter in your town. 

Moms for Liberty is an extremist antigovernment organization that launched in Florida in 2021 and has established chapters from coast to coast, including 17 county-level chapters in South Carolina. They aren’t always moms, they don’t always have kids, and they definitely don’t care about “liberty” for everyone else. 

We keep running into these folks and their chosen political candidates across the state. They may seem small in number, but they have powerful allies, including State Superintendent Ellen Weaver, who spoke at their national conference in Philadelphia this year and repeats their talking points word for word. 

Here are some signs to watch out for: 

They’re trying to make South Carolina into Florida

Like a bad hurricane season, the past few years have brought bad news up the coast from Florida. Moms for Liberty started in Ron DeSantis’ viciously anti-LGBTQ and anti-Black policymaking playground, and they’re constantly trying to copy and paste that state’s most harmful policies here.

In Charleston County this year, a Moms for Liberty-backed school board member named Ed Kelley allegedly made threatening comments about a transgender teacher at a Moms for Liberty meeting. He then tried to pass a local version of Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, which would have prohibited teachers from talking about sexual orientation and gender. He has so far refused public pressure to resign. 

School district administrators are getting fired without explanation

One of the most common Moms for Liberty tactics nationwide is to oust the superintendents of school districts when they take power. As The 74 recently reported, Moms for Liberty-controlled school boards have removed the superintendents in 9 of the 17 school districts they flipped nationwide in 2022.

In Berkeley County, 6 school board members endorsed by Moms for Liberty took power in November 2022 and immediately fired the district’s first Black superintendent without a word of explanation. 

Currently in Charleston County Schools, Moms for Liberty-backed school board members — some of whom campaigned on a platform of transparency — have been working since September to fire or push out the district’s Black superintendent after 3 months on the job, without public debate or explanation. 

White parents are mad about “critical race theory” but they can’t articulate why

Critical race theory is a graduate-level concept that isn’t taught in K-12 schools, but it frequently serves as shorthand in public discourse for “ideas that bother white people.” Moms for Liberty are terrified of critical race theory, and they see it everywhere – in books with Black characters, in classrooms led by Black teachers, and in districts that consider diversity and equity as values worth pursuing. 

Case in point: When book banners successfully removed the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You from Pickens County Schools last year, one of their chief complaints was that the book contained “critical race theory.”

In Berkeley County, a new Moms for Liberty majority on the school board took a vote at their first meeting to ban critical race theory. When pressed for a definition, the new board chairman quoted verbatim from a false definition written by the right-wing Goldwater Institute.

Allies of Moms for Liberty aren’t just at the school board level; they also have friends at the State House. The South Carolina chapter of the right-wing State Freedom Caucus Network has sued multiple school districts in the past year for using a popular and effective literacy curriculum from EL Education, using doctored recordings to allege that it teaches “critical race theory” to elementary students. Moms for Liberty school boards were all too happy to stoke the panic. 

Religious liberty is going out the window

It’s still legal for students to pray in schools no matter what the fearmongers tell you. But that’s not enough for Moms for Liberty.

In early 2023, the Charleston County School Board’s 5-4 Moms for Liberty majority wasted hours of everyone’s time debating a proposal to instate prayer at the start of their meetings. Up the road in Berkeley County, supporters of the M4L board members shouted the Lord’s Prayer during the moment of silence at several school board meetings. In Columbia, Superintendent Weaver asked Department of Education staff to reflect on how they can help all children reach “their God-given potential.” 

This erosion of the separation of church and state is a hallmark of the Moms for Liberty agenda. 

They’re calling the cops on librarians

Moms for Liberty activists keep pushing a bogus legal theory: that teachers and librarians with books about LGBTQ people on their shelves can be arrested for distributing “obscene material to minors.”  

This may have escaped their team of legal scholars, but the law these wannabe speech police keep citing (S.C. Code of Laws Section 16-15-385) only applies to materials that lack “literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” The law also specifically excludes teachers and librarians from enforcement. 

That didn’t stop Moms for Liberty copycats in Beaufort County from filing a complaint with the sheriff’s office against district employees. Thankfully, the sheriff’s office declined to investigate. Unfortunately, in Travelers Rest, police did show up at a local library with a Pride display.

The point of these tactics is to intimidate public employees and stifle free speech. As the Greenville News recently reported, the Greenville County Library lost 5 employees per month in 2022 amid a climate of rising censorship. 

One person is assigning educators a lot of pointless homework

A common tactic we’re seeing with Moms for Liberty and copycat organizations around South Carolina is that a small group, or even a single person, will spam the school district office with a list of books they’re scared of and want taken out of schools. These book banners don’t want to trust trained librarians to cultivate collections; they want to decide what all students — not just their own kids — can access. 

They’ll quibble about the definition of “ban,” but the point is to take books off library shelves and out of classrooms. This creates chaos for students when the self-appointed censors target frequently assigned books (like The Kite Runner in Beaufort County or The Handmaid’s Tale in Anderson County), and it also creates a lot of unpaid work for teachers and librarians. 

To cite an example in Berkeley County: One parent sent a list of 93 books to ban, and educators estimated how many hours they will have to spend on book review committees, calculating that they’ll have to do more than $233,000 worth of unpaid work over the course of a year. Imagine spending that time, money, and effort on … literally anything else. 

We didn’t start the recent wave of censorship and attacks on educators, but we’re sticking around until it’s over. Moms for Liberty are relative newcomers to political power, and South Carolinians of good conscience will outlast them.