U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN.) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), along with all Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thursday, Oct. 7, excoriated the Department of Justice (DOJ) for threatening the use of federal law enforcement to deter parents’ free speech. This comes after DOJ issued a memorandum suggesting the FBI may need to assist with policing local school board meetings.
“We are concerned about the appearance of the Department of Justice policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents. We urge you to make very clear to the American public that the Department of Justice will not interfere with the rights of parents to come before school boards and speak with educators about their concerns, whether regarding coronavirus-related measures, the teaching of critical race theory in schools, sexually explicit books in schools, or any other topic,” the senators wrote.
“To be clear, violence and true threats of violence are not protected speech and have no place in the public discourse of a democracy… However, the FBI should not be involved in quashing and criminalizing discourse that is well beneath violent acts… It is not appropriate to use the awesome powers of the federal government – including the PATRIOT Act, a statute designed to thwart international terrorism – to quash those who question local school boards,” the senators continued.
Last month, National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Biden asking for help from federal law enforcement, referencing the PATRIOT Act, a statute that helps the federal government fight international terrorism. NSBA highlighted situations involving parents frustrated by COVID-19 mask mandates for children and Critical Race Theory in the classroom, and equated those parents to domestic terrorists.
Sens. Blackburn and Grassley maintain that concerned parents are not domestic terrorists, and the reported heated exchanges at school board meetings are clearly protected under the First Amendment.
In addition to Blackburn and Grassley, the letter is signed by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ben Sasse (R-NE.), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Kennedy (R-LA), and Thom Tillis (R-NC).