Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Attorney General Merrick Garland on Oct. 8 that his recent Justice Department memo directing federal law enforcement to clamp down on parental protests at school board meetings could infringe upon parents’ constitutional rights.
The attorney general’s memo, which has been the center of much criticism since its Oct 4 release, states that there’s a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” It directs the FBI to work with state and local governments to discuss strategies to address the alleged threats.
The memo appears to be prompted by the National School Boards Association, which urged the Biden administration to invoke domestic terrorism laws to handle “angry mobs” of parents who seek to hold school officials accountable for the teaching of Marxist doctrines such as critical race theory (CRT) and for enacting COVID-19 restrictions placed on their children.
In his letter to Garland, McConnell said the “ominous rhetoric” used in the memo doesn’t reflect what has actually been happening at school board meetings across the United States.
“Parents absolutely should be telling their local schools what to teach. This is the very basis of representative government,” he wrote. “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.”
McConnell admitted that “some school board meetings have involved altercations with the police,” but he stated that those incidents were isolated and “dealt with effectively by local law enforcement.”
He then pointed to Virginia’s Loudoun County, where he said public officials have been making “shocking efforts” to intimidate parents who resist the incorporation of CRT in classrooms. The Loudon County prosecutor, he noted, was a member of a Facebook group that compiled a list of anti-CRT parents and “doxxed” them.
“It’s exactly this kind of intimidation of private citizens by government officials that our federal civil rights laws were designed to prevent,” he said.
McConnell asked that Garland answer a series of questions regarding the Oct. 4 memo, including what he means by “harassment” and “intimidation” and whether he’s planning to investigate incidents such as the one in Loudon County, in which a government official is allegedly involved in an attempt to “abridge the free speech of citizens.”
He also asked that Garland turn over records of communications between his department and national education groups—namely the National School Boards Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association—from prior to the release of the memo.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed similar concerns on Oct. 7, saying that important speech by citizens will be chilled in school board meetings by even suggesting the possibility that they might be treated as domestic terrorists.
“Violence and true threats of violence are not protected speech and have no place in the public discourse of a democracy,” the senators said. “However, the FBI should not be involved in quashing and criminalizing discourse that is well beneath violent acts.”