- - Monday, October 18, 2021

This month a memo from the Attorney General of the United States and one-time nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, directed the “[FBI], working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district…[to] facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.”

If Attorney General Garland’s abandonment of the principles enshrined in our Constitution is representative of the type of jurist with whom President Biden would pack the Supreme Court as many in his party are demanding he do and his own commission studying the court may recommend, every freedom-loving American regardless of political affiliation should recoil in disgust.

Mr. Garland took his action at the behest of the National Association of School Boards (NASB), who requested in a letter to President Joe Biden that his administration use authority granted by the Patriot Act to investigate and prosecute “domestic terrorists.” The request from NASB was prompted by the recent spate of angry parents showing up at school board meetings to oppose critical race theory and explicit sexual content in books and educational materials in schools.

Clearly, any act of violence or threat of violence against a local school board member is a crime and should be investigated as such by local police and prosecuted by local district attorneys.

Contrary to Mr. Garland’s assertion otherwise, neither the FBI nor any other federal law enforcement agency has any semblance of jurisdiction over parents yelling at school board meetings. To “…open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response” would empower any school board member confronted with opposition, loud and angry though it may be, to unleash the full power of the federal government on private citizens for essentially committing a “thought crime,” or simply “making their voice heard” on policies that directly affect their children.

Unlike President Biden’s characterization of thugs who followed U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema into the bathroom to harass her for opposing her own party’s agenda, law-abiding citizens expressing dissent and dissatisfaction with policymakers at a public meeting is “part of the process.”

Consider the contrast: those in favor of the government’s preferred agenda invading the most private of space to confront an elected official are only “inappropriate,” while those who show up to oppose the government agenda at public meetings are potentially “domestic terrorists.”

To characterize this sort of government intimidation towards citizens based on ideological differences as a chilling effect on free speech would be the equivalent of declaring the universe to be big. Moreover, since many of those expressing outrage over the racially divisive poison of CRT and the perverse sexualization of children through educational curriculum do so out of sincerely held religious convictions, Mr. Garland’s memo demonstrates disdain for the free exercise of religion and the right to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This trifecta of tyranny presents ample evidence that Attorney General Garland never belonged within a mile of the U.S. Supreme Court, let alone on the bench. Thank you, Mitch McConnell. Packing the court with the likes of Mr. Garland would subject religious liberty and other cherished God-given rights to the political whims of the majority. The Attorney General’s action provides a glimpse of the not-so-distant future where dissent is criminalized and religious expression muzzled.

Increasingly, people of faith expressing and attempting to live out in public what was once commonly held convictions find themselves at odds with cultural orthodoxy. Thankfully, the first amendment affords protection to unpopular opinions, perhaps most importantly, to publicly express unpopular opinions even if those opinions make elected officials or school board members a bit uncomfortable. 
While incorporating democratic principles into the Constitution, the Founders were deeply distrustful of pure democracy, which could lead to the tyranny of the majority. Their prescience is demonstrated daily. If we pack the court with people like Merrick Garland, who would ignore their wisdom, we do so at our own peril.

• Lathan Watts is Director of Public Affairs at First Liberty Institute, a non-profit law firm and think tank exclusively dedicated to defending religious liberty for all Americans.

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