Garland memo could stifle parents’ free speech rights

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Garland memo could stifle parents' free speech rights

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to clarify what he meant by a crackdown on the “harassment” of school officials in his recent memo, warning that the directive could stifle parents’ constitutional right to free speech, according to a report.

“In it you directed federal law enforcement to partner with state and local governments to address ‘threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation and harassment’ of ‘school administrators, board members, teachers and staff’ in public schools,” McConnell​ (R-Ky.​) said in a letter to the attorney general on Friday, according to a Fox News report.

“The memorandum purports to respond to a ‘disturbing spike’ in threats and harassment against these officials — although it’s silent as to the supposed perpetrators or any actual predicates for this action​,” he continued.

Garland’s memo, released Tuesday, directed the FBI to take the lead on local investigations into what he called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against school administrators, teachers and school board members.

The memo generated a firestorm of controversy among parents and Republican lawmakers.

It was prompted by the National School Boards Association asking the Biden administration to intervene in incidents involving protesters and school officials and characterized the episodes as “domestic terrorism.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky
McConnell led a chorus of criticism of Garland’s memo.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

“Your memorandum’s ominous rhetoric doesn’t reflect the reality of what we have seen at school boards across the country in recent months,” McConnell ​wrote in his letter.

“Parents absolutely should be telling their local schools what to teach. This is the very basis of representative government,” he added. “They do this both in elections and — as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution — while petitioning their government for redress of grievance. Telling elected officials they’re wrong is democracy, not intimidation.”​

Critics of Garland’s memo contend that parents have every right to confront school boards with concerns about the teaching of “woke” policies like critical race theory and mask mandates.

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee echoed McConnell’s concerns in their own letter to Garland, raising fears that law enforcement will “chill” the parents’ First Amendment rights. 

“​V​iolence and true threats of violence are not protected speech and have no place in the public discourse of a democracy,” but “the FBI should not be involved in quashing and criminalizing discourse that is well beneath violent acts” and “federal law enforcement muscle should never be used against protesting parents​,” said the letter signed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and all 11 Republican members of the panel, according to the Washington Examiner. ​

US Attorney General Merrick Garland
Garland’s memo directed the FBI to take the lead on local investigations into what he called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against school administrators, teachers and school board members.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

A number of Republican lawmakers accused President Biden of weaponizing the Justice Department and siccing federal agents on parents. 

“At his confirmation hearing, Merrick Garland promised not to follow the Obama model of weaponizing DOJ to target and persecute his political opponents. Just a few months in, he’s already breaking that promise,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote this week on Twitter.

Meanwhile, a parents group claims that Garland has a conflict of interest involving his memo. 

Parents Defending Education revealed that Garland’s daughter Rebecca is married to Xan Tanner, the co-founder of Panorama Education, a company that uses components of critical race theory in its work with schools across the nation. 

“Panorama Education will profit from Garland’s outrageous silencing of parents who are challenging its data mining of K-12 students,” wrote Asra Normani, the vice president of investigations and strategy for the parents group.

McConnell conceded that there have been “altercations with the police” as some school board meetings, they have been few and were dealt with by local law enforcement. 

People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory"
A parents group claims that Garland has a conflict of interest involving his memo. 
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

H​e also said there have been “shocking efforts by public officials to organize for the intimidation and harassment of parents who have the ​temerity to want a better education for their children.”

He pointed out that a school board member in Loudon County, Va., took part in a Facebook group that compiled a list of parents opposed to critical race theory and talked about hacking their websites. 

​”​It’s a situation where legal accountability is difficult because the Loudon County Prosecutor was also a member of the group seeking to ‘doxx’ concerned parents,” McConnell wrote. ​

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