Republican senators are demanding the Biden Justice Department make clear that it will not interfere with school board meetings or threaten to use federal authorities to deter parents’ free speech.
All 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee told Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a letter Thursday that they are concerned about the “appearance” of the Justice Department “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.
The letter was sent in response to the attorney general’s memo this week that directed federal authorities to develop strategies to address a “disturbing spike” in threats and violence against school boards.
Mr. Garland’s call-to-action came days after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Biden asking for federal authorities to investigate and monitor the violence and threats.
The association said there have been “attacks” against school board members and educators who approved coronavirus-related mask policies and many are facing physical threats linked to the fight over teaching critical race theory in the schools.
The NSBA asked the federal government to “examine appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes and acts of violence” under the Patriot Act in regard to domestic terrorism and other federal laws.
The GOP senators said violence and threats of violence should have “no place” in civic discourse. Angry parents, however, are not necessarily “threatening” and they should be involved in public debate over what and how public schools teach their children “even if those discussions get heated,” their letter states.
They said it is inappropriate to use the Patriot Act and federal powers “to quash those who question local school boards,” and the NSBA’s suggestion of that possibility will chill speech by parents at school board meetings.
The GOP senators who signed the letter include: Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Lee of Utah, and Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both of Texas.
The Washington Times sent a request for comment Thursday to the Justice Department.