(Washington, D.C. – October 19, 2021) – Today, 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.”
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented:
“The government is without authority to criminalize First Amendment activity that might cause another to feel ‘harassed’ or ‘intimidated,’ even if that is what the speaker intended, absent a showing that the speech itself falls within one of the very narrow, recognized exceptions, such as making a ‘true threat or engaging in ‘fighting words’ or ‘incitement’—which is not happening here. First Amendment freedoms, such as those possessed by the objecting parents and private citizens, are protected not only against heavy-handed frontal attack, but also from being stifled by more subtle government interference. There is no question that the purpose and intended effect of the Attorney General’s recent pronouncement is to silence dissenting opinions, in violation of the First Amendment.”
While the Attorney General has set his sights on parents who object to “progressive” curricula and policies at local school board meetings, he is doing nothing to stop the actual criminal acts committed by Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors because the Attorney General shares the political views of these left-wing organizations.
AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi commented:
“AFLC is honored to represent these brave parents who are committed in their stand against the juggernaut that is the progressive movement seeking to dismantle the Constitution and the Republic. Conservative Americans are confronted today with a choice: resist or acquiesce. The Biden administration, the Obama administration before that, and the faceless bureaucrats in our nation’s capital who effectively annulled the Trump administration, are in this fight for keeps and seek a future in which free speech means ‘social justice’ speech and any and all opposition is criminalized ‘hate speech’ or ‘domestic terrorism.’ This is a battle for not just the heart and soul of this country, but its very existence. If speaking this truth can put you in jail, the future is here. AFLC stands strong and tall and will defend our Constitution at every turn.”