Lankford outraged by National Archives’ attempt to cancel founding documents, demands change

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today sent a letter to David Ferriero, Archivist for the United States to express his frustration with the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) use of a “Harmful Language Alert” on all searchable government documents on its website. This includes the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. The letter demands that the alert be removed from the website immediately and presses for answers on NARA’sideologically-motivated task force report.

Lankford noted in the letter, “I am deeply concerned with the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) blanket application of a ‘Harmful Language Alert,’ to all documents in the Archives Catalog. Most disturbing is use of the alert for our nation’s founding documents, including the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights.”

He continued, “As a nation, we should take pride in our founding documents, not stipulate them as if we are ashamed of the very freedoms that provide individuals in our nation with the ability to discuss and discern for themselves how to engage with and respond to their government, its laws, and its history.”

You can read the full letter below.

Dear Mr. Ferriero,

I am deeply concerned with the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) blanket application of a “Harmful Language Alert,” to all documents in the Archives Catalog. Most disturbing is use of the alert for our nation’s founding documents, including the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. It should be removed immediately.

As you are well aware, NARA’s Statement on Potentially Harmful Content states:

“The Catalog and web pages contain some content that may be harmful or difficult to view. NARA’s records span the history of the United States, and it is our charge to preserve and make available these historical records. As a result, some of the materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved for their historical significance.”

This obviously politically-charged qualifier goes leaps and bounds beyond the role of NARA, which has been established to operate as a nonpartisan entity responsible for providing public access to federal government records. As you said in 2019, “One of the great values of having a nonpartisan, independent agency responsible for the records is we’re preserving the good stuff and the bad stuff. Unlike some other countries where there’s less focus on ensuring that there is a nonpartisan approach, we’re pretty particular about that.” 

While our nation undoubtedly has stains on its history, we have, from our founding, created the most free and diverse society on earth. Nevertheless, the people of the United States have continued their mission of forming a more perfect union.

As a nation, we should take pride in our founding documents, not stipulate them as if we are ashamed of the very freedoms that provide individuals in our nation with the ability to discuss and discern for themselves how to engage with and respond to their government, its laws, and its history. As NARA’s mission states, “Public access to government records strengthens democracy by allowing Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.”

In light of this alert and the Archivist’s Task Force on Racism’s report, both of which should be revoked, please provide a response to the following questions by September 30, 2021.  

1.     In your capacity as Archivist, do you view the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence as presenting outdated, biased, offensive, and violent views and opinions?

o   Do you intend to add this warning to physical exhibits of the documents at NARA facilities?

o   Additionally, will such warnings or labels be attached to items for purchase and/or free educational materials available at NARA facilities?

2.     The report states that the Task Force “had to consider the implications of the new executive orders 13950 and 13985 which were established prior to and during the review period…” Do you view the report and its content as meeting the intent of President Biden’s Executive Order 13985?

3.     How did the Task Force ensure that it was collecting information from individuals and experts with a variety of perspectives when compiling the report to ensure balance in its findings?

4.     I’ve attached the definitions included in the report as an addendum to this letter. How does NARA intend to use the definitions listed in the report both to achieve the recommendations and subsequent changes and to develop educator resources or toolkits on its website?

5.     The report is critical of President Trump and a commission established by his Administration. Do you view those references as keeping in line with the independent and nonpartisan mission of NARA? How will you ensure any implementation from the report, including the establishment of the working group tasked with executing the report, be nonpartisan and neutral? 

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