A coalition of 17 state attorneys general is demanding that the U.S. Department of Justice immediately rescind a recent memo they say would “chill lawful dissent by parents voiced during local school board meetings.”
The DOJ memo, which has been the center of much criticism since its Oct 4 release, directs the FBI to work with state and local governments to address an alleged “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against teachers and school leaders. It came shortly after National School Boards Association (NSBA) urged the Biden administration to invoke counter-terrorism laws to handle “angry mobs” of parents seeking to hold school officials accountable for the teaching of the Marxist critical race theory and for imposing COVID-19 restrictions on their children.
In a letter (pdf) sent on Monday to President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, the chief legal officers argued that the memo doesn’t appear to be based on facts, but on a flawed NSBA narrative, which described disruptions at school board meetings as violent threats akin to “domestic terrorism.”
“The vast majority of incidents that NSBA cites involved disruptive and disorderly conduct rather than threats,” the letter reads. “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.”
The letter was referring to riots involving anarcho-communist group Antifa and Marxist group Black Lives Matter.
“Actual threats and violence towards school administrators, board members, teachers, or staff are rare,” the attorneys general noted, adding that there are already sufficient criminal and civil remedies available, without the need for FBI to intervene in “what is a quintessential local issue.”
The attorneys general further stated that the DOJ memo “is likely intimidating to parents,” who in many cases are, for the first time, exercising their First Amendment right to speak in a public forum.
“We as a country should celebrate their participation in our system of self-government, not silence them by accusing them of ‘domestic terrorism’ and threaten them with the prospect of the FBI knocking on their door to investigate their activities,” they added.
The letter was written by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, and co-signed 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 letter comes as school board organizations in at least a dozen states distance themselves from the NSBA, citing disagreement over the way it characterized concerned parents. School boards in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, have released statements opposing the NSBA letter to the Biden administration or Garland’s memo or both.