Saline Parents v. Attorney General Merrick Garland

(Washington, D.C. ) –  On October 19, 2021, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, alleging that Garland’s recently announced policy to effectively criminalize public criticism of local school boards by parents violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a group of parents from Saline, Michigan, and Loudoun County, Virginia.

Just recently, Attorney General Garland announced with some fanfare that he was calling upon the FBI and federal prosecutors to use the overwhelming power of the federal government’s criminal justice system to target those parents who dare to publicly criticize the local school boards that are indoctrinating their children with progressive claptrap disguised as school curricula.  As set forth in the federal lawsuit:

In his October 4, 2021, “Memorandum For” Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation; Director, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys; Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division; and United States Attorneys (all responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity), the Attorney General falsely states that “there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools.”  In his memorandum, the Attorney General gives a meaningless nod to the Constitution, stating, “While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”  Yet, the AG Policy is, in fact, a heavy-handed, direct threat by a powerful government agency designed and intended “to intimidate individuals based on their views.”

The AG Policy states that the Department of Justice “is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats . . . and other forms of intimidation and harassment.”  The AG Policy creates a “snitch line,” by “open[ing] dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.”  In short, the AG Policy is a direct threat and warning to parents and private citizens across the United States, including Plaintiffs, that the Department of Justice and its FBI will be investigating you and monitoring what you say at these school board meetings so be careful about what you say and how you say it, thereby chilling such expression.

The October 4, 2021, memorandum is a one-page screed that rubber-stamps the claims of “progressive,” left-wing activists.  It fails to address the Department of Justice’s lack of jurisdiction to intrude on interactions between parents and local school boards in the absence of any federal crime, and it fails to account for the fact that the First Amendment protects political dissent—even dissent that rises to the level of intimidation or harassment.

In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs, all of whom are concerned parents, are seeking a court order to halt the recently announced policy of the Attorney General to use federal law enforcement resources to silence parents and other private citizens who publicly object to and oppose the divisive, harmful, immoral, and racist policies of the “progressive” Left that are being implemented by school boards and school officials in public school districts throughout the United States, including in the public schools in Saline, Michigan, and in Loudoun County, Virginia.

These parents publicly object to their school districts promoting the Critical Race Theory ideology, which teaches students to be racists.  They object to the divisive, harmful, and immoral transgender polices that are being implemented.  And 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.

One of the parents suing in this case is Xi Van Fleet.  Ms. Van Fleet endured Mao’s Cultural Revolution before immigrating to the United States.  Based on her experience, the Attorney General is using tactics similar to ones she saw Communist China use to stop parents from speaking out, so she is fighting back.

When she was in China, Ms. Van Fleet spent her entire school years in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, so she is very familiar with the communist tactics used to divide people, to cancel the Chinese traditional culture, and to destroy its heritage.  Based on her observations, all of this is happening here in the United States, and the Attorney General is providing the enforcement mechanism to stifle opposition to it.

To stifle this opposition to the “progressive” polices of the Left, the Attorney General has vowed to use federal resources to investigate and prosecute, if necessary, parents whose speech might be considered “harassing” or “intimidating” to school officials, declaring these parents to be “domestic terrorists.”

CASE  UPDATE (January 17, 2022): We filed a First Amended Complaint.

CASE UPDATE (March 14, 2022): We filed a response in opposition to the Attorney General’s motion to dismiss.

CASE UPDATE (January 12, 2023): We filed our opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

CASE UPDATE (April 7, 2023): We filed our reply brief in the D.C. Circuit.

CASE UPDATE (September 22, 2023):  Oral argument was held before a 3-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit.  You can listen to the argument here.  Our case was the third one called; it begins around the 44:30 minute mark.

CASE UPDATE (January 9, 2024): The three-judge panel ruled against us on December 15, 2023.  Today, we filed a petition for rehearing en banc, asking the full court to rehear this important case.