Sixteen Republican lawmakers — most of whom are members of the House Freedom Caucus — voted against a measure this week that would recognize locations where Japanese American internment camps were once operated as historical sites, and direct the National Parks Service to promote education about the country’s treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-California), had overwhelming bipartisan support, and passed on Wednesday with the backing of 406 representatives in the House. Ten lawmakers didn’t vote, and 16 Republicans voted against the measure.
If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden, it would establish a program known as the “Japanese American World War II History Network” at various sites throughout the country. It would also direct the National Parks Service to oversee the program in order to expand educational opportunities about internment camps across the country.
During World War II, around 120,000 Japanese American residents were forcefully removed from their homes and placed into internment camps as the result of a directive signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in February of 1942.
The Republicans who voted against the measure include Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colorado), Mo Brooks (Alabama), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Chip Roy (Texas) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia). Most of the lawmakers who voted against the bill have not publicly stated why they are opposed to it, but some said that the federal government should not be in the business of rectifying historical wrongs and educating the public.
“Rep. Roy believes this matter should not be the responsibility of the federal government and that it would be best handled by private and charitable entities,” a spokesperson for the GOP lawmaker said.
Republican Rep. Andy Harris (Maryland), who also voted against the bill, justified his opposition by saying that Congress should be focused on other issues, such as the war in Ukraine or gas prices. But the same day that the bill on Japanese American internment was voted on, Harris voted in favor of another bill that would help preserve a different historical landmark in Eunice, Louisiana.
The Republicans’ opposition to the bill comes amid a far right push to censor or ban lessons on race in K-12 classrooms across the country. Indeed, bans on the teaching of Critical Race Theory have even gone as far as to forbid lessons that discuss the history of racism in the U.S. altogether.
In some places, such bans have included lessons or books that discuss the U.S.’s internment of Japanese Americans. A school district in Pennsylvania, for example, placed a ban on a graphic novel written by actor George Takei that detailed his childhood experiences living in an internment camp. That ban was later lifted after public outcry.