Moms for Liberty and Institute for Free Speech Ask Sixth Circuit to Protect First Amendment Rights at School Board Meetings

The Institute has just filed an appeal brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to challenge unconstitutional policies that chill speech and allow viewpoint discrimination

March 4, 2024   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  , ,
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Wilson County, TN — The First Amendment guarantees people the right to criticize their local public officials without the threat of censorship or retaliation.

That’s why the Institute for Free Speech has filed an appeal brief on behalf of the Wilson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reverse a district court decision that allowed a Tennessee school board to continue enforcing policies that violate citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech.

The lawsuit began after the Wilson County Board of Education censored Robin Lemons, a mother who appeared at a meeting to criticize school officials for their handling of a sexual misconduct incident involving her fourth-grade daughter, on the grounds that Lemons refused to publicly announce her home address before speaking.

The address requirement, which was not consistently enforced, exposes speakers and their families to potential harassment and reprisals. Other policies prohibited “abusive” remarks and mandated that speech on non-agenda items be “in the public interest,” effectively allowing the Wilson County School Board to selectively silence critical speakers. The brief challenges all three policies.

“The First Amendment prohibits the government from intimidating speakers, discriminating against viewpoints it dislikes, and picking who can speak at a public meeting based on nothing more than a public official’s own sense of what’s good or bad for society,” said Brett Nolan, Senior Attorney at the Institute for Free Speech. “But the Wilson County school board has done all of the above with its unconstitutional public comment policies. We’re asking the Sixth Circuit to reverse the denial of a preliminary injunction and halt enforcement of these speech-chilling rules.”

The lawsuit contends that forcing speakers to disclose their address serves no legitimate purpose and deters participation on controversial issues; the “abusive” speech ban allows subjective viewpoint discrimination; and the “public interest” requirement gives government officials virtually unlimited discretion to decide who gets to speak about what.

To read the appeal brief in Moms for Liberty – Wilson County, TN v. Wilson County Board of Education, click here. To learn more about the case, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech promotes and defends the political speech rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government guaranteed by the First Amendment.

IFS Staff

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