The attorneys general of 17 U.S. states have formed a coalition denouncing the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI for attempting to “chill lawful dissent by parents voiced during local school board meetings.”
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and 16 other state chief legal officers signed a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday, blasting the president over an October 4 DOJ memo directing the FBI to investigate and potentially crack down on “a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” at local school board meetings. Rokita’s letter was cosigned by the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
The state attorneys general accused the Biden administration of targeting parents with the memo and attempting to chill criticism of progressive school curriculum and strict COVID policies such as school mask mandates. The joint letter states that the DOJ memo violates parents’ First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights by suppressing free speech and unduly interfering in a parent’s right to raise his child.
The attorneys general also picked apart a September 30 letter by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) pushing the Biden administration to order federal agents to get involved in local school board meetings where the alleged threats are happening. In a much-criticized portion of the NSBA letter, the association called on Biden to invoke the Patriot Act over “acts of malice, violence and threats against public school officials” that “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
“To be sure, anyone who attacks or threatens violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, or staff should be prosecuted,” the AGs’ letter said. “However, in its letter demanding action, the NSBA fails to document a single legitimate instance of violence. And even if it did, there are sufficient criminal and civil remedies already available in all 50 states and territories.”
“The fact is, the vast majority of incidents that NSBA cites involved disruptive and disorderly conduct rather than threats,” the AGs’ letter continues. “In fact, in no known instance, has there been anything like the burning, looting, police assaults, vandalism and other criminal activity that occurred in the summer of 2020. We note that to date your administration has done nothing to bring those thousands of perpetrators to justice and we could not find where the NSBA condemned any of that outright and documented criminal behavior.”
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI to begin meeting and coordinating with local law enforcement to police school board meetings just days after the NSBA letter was sent to the White House. The decision to consider a crackdown on “harassment” at school board meetings comes as such venues have erupted with anger from parents of the inclusion of Critical Race Theory and sexually explicit content in school curricula.
“In recent months, 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,” the memo said, without citing specific examples. “While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, the protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. 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,” it continued.
“The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate,” Garland wrote.