Atlanta, GA – Residents of Forsyth County are now permanently free to read excerpts from any written work available in the county school district’s classrooms or library following a court order issued yesterday by federal Judge Richard W. Story.
The order brings a lawsuit filed last July by members of the group Mama Bears of Forsyth County nearly to an end. The only remaining issue in the litigation is the amount of attorney’s fees owed by the Forsyth County School District (“FCS”) to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, which the parties to the lawsuit agreed to continue working to resolve.
The order, which both sides in the lawsuit asked the judge to approve, also:
- “permanently enjoins the District … from enforcing the respectfulness requirement, the restriction on personally addressing Board members, including the Superintendent, or any restriction on profane, uncivil or abusive remarks contained in the FCS’ current public participation policy or any substantially comparable provision in a future FCS policy….
- “does not prevent the District or its Board from amending the FCS public participation policy or issuing further implementing regulations consistent with this injunction….
- [and awards the plaintiffs] “nominal damages in the amount of $17.91 payable by check made out directly to each Alison Hair and Cindy Martin individually and delivered to them by FCS, or its insurer.”
The concerned group wanted to read to school officials sexually graphic material in books at the district’s schools. The Board of Education censored speakers at board meetings who read excerpts containing language the Chair deemed “inappropriate” for children. After parent Alison Hair persisted, the Board banned her from participating in future meetings until she agreed to limit her First Amendment rights.
On July 25, Hair, parent Cindy Martin, and the Mama Bears of Forsyth County filed a federal lawsuit against the Forsyth County Board of Education for violating their constitutional rights. They are represented in the case by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group that defends political speech rights.
In November, Judge Story ruled that crucial portions of the board’s public comment policy were unconstitutional and barred their enforcement. He also ordered the district to end its ban on Alison Hair from speaking at board meetings.
“Today is a great day for free speech!” said Cindy Martin, Chair of Mama Bears. “Parents can now read from any book used in our schools during public comment time. We are free to address our board members or the superintendent. The court’s order is a big victory for our members and everyone in our community. I will forever be grateful to our attorneys for their work to restore our freedom to speak and protect our children.”
“If it can be checked out in a school library, you should be able to read from it during a school board meeting,” said Del Kolde, Senior Attorney at the Institute for Free Speech. “This consent injunction provides long-term protection for the Mama Bears or any other Forsyth County parents who want to read from books available in schools in order to make a political or philosophical point during a school board meeting.”
The nominal damages of $17.91 is a symbolic payment acknowledging that the FCS violated the plaintiffs’ rights. The amount reflects the year the states ratified the First Amendment, in 1791.
School boards too often neglect the First Amendment rights of their critics at public meetings. The Institute for Free Speech is proud to stand with parents and citizens who assert their constitutional rights to speak, assemble, and petition the government.
The case is Mama Bears v. Forsyth County Schools before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Gainesville division. To read the consent judgment and injunction, click here.
About the Institute for Free Speech
The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.