2 groups of parents sue feds for cracking down on school board harassment

Groups argue First Amendment gives them leeway to harass or intimate school board members and other educators
By: | October 21, 2021
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Parents opposing critical race theory are suing U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland saying, essentially, that free speech gives them leeway to harass or intimate school board members and other educators.

Garland earlier this month directed the FBI, federal prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies to crack down on members of the public who have threatened school boards, teachers and administrators over critical race theory, sex education, mask and vaccine mandates, and other issues.

But this policy criminalizes public criticism of local school boards in violation of the First and Fifth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, says the lawsuit filed this week by the American Freedom Law Center on behalf of parents in Saline, Michigan and Loudon County, Virginia.

The parents are not only objecting to critical race theory but also certain sex education policies and instruction that covers transgender and identity issues.

“These parents publicly object to their school districts promoting the critical race theory ideology, which teaches students to be racists,” the American Freedom Law Center says. “They object to the divisive, harmful, and immoral transgender policies that are being implemented.”

The lawsuit, which seeks a court order to shut down the attorney general’s policy, argues that the federal government does not have the authority “to criminalize First Amendment activity that might cause another to feel ‘harassed’ or ‘intimidated,’ even if that is what the speaker intended.”

Authorities can only block speech that when individuals are making a “true threat or engaging in ‘fighting words’ or ‘incitement’—which is not happening here,” says Robert Muise, the American Freedom Law Center’s co-founder and senior counsel.

In Saline, Michigan, the parents “object to the immoral and pornographic sex education program that the school board is attempting to force on children in the public schools,” the organization says.

The center also believes that the federal government is singling out these parents while failing to take action against disruptions caused by Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors.

Pleas for help

Earlier this fall the National School Boards Association called on the Biden administration to stop the threats and violence directed at public education leaders that were interfering with school operations and even causing school lockdowns.

The Justice Department then announced it was forming a task force, consisting of U.S. Department of Justice officials from several divisions, including the FBI, to prosecute crimes against school district staff and assist local law enforcement. The agency is also offer specialized training to school boards and administrators to recognize the type of behavior that constitutes threats.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland said in a news release announcing the response. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

In other critical race theory news, a group of students, educators and advocates sued the state of Oklahoma this week over a law banning the teaching of criticial race theory in K-12 and higher education. They argue that the law “severely restricts” classroom discussions about race and gender.

“All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination,” said Emerson Sykes, staff attorney with the ACLU, one of the organizations that filed the Oklahoma lawsuit.