Moms Sue Wilson County School Board over Censorship

March 9, 2023   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Nashville, TN – A group of Wilson County moms today filed a federal lawsuit against the Wilson County Board of Education for violating their First Amendment right to speak at the board’s public meetings.

When Robin Lemons decided to speak to the Wilson County school board last fall about how school officials ignored and mishandled an allegation of sexual misconduct involving her fourth-grade daughter, she worried the school board might censor her. She was right.

As soon as she started criticizing the school director during the October 3, 2022, meeting, Board Chairman Jamie Farough told Lemons to “stop talking.” Farough cut her off because she had not announced her home address to the crowd—a widely ignored rule that the school board did not enforce against any other speaker last year. Lemons complied with the request, but now is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the Wilson County Board of Education for violating her First Amendment rights. The Wilson County chapter of Moms for Liberty and its chair Amanda Dunagan-Price join her as plaintiffs in the case.

They are represented in the lawsuit by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech, a nonpartisan First Amendment advocacy group that defends political speech rights, and John I. Harris III of Schulman, LeRoy & Bennett, PC, a Nashville law firm.

“School boards cannot selectively enforce rules to censor speakers who criticize them,” said Institute for Free Speech Attorney Brett Nolan, who is representing the plaintiffs. “That is a basic guarantee of the First Amendment, and it applies even when a speaker’s criticism is harsh and uncomfortable.”

The moms challenge three policies that violate the First Amendment, including the board’s requirement that speakers publicly announce their home address before speaking. This rule—which the board selectively enforced against Lemons—exposes speakers, their homes, and their families to potential harassment or reprisals if their speech is unpopular.

The moms also challenge the board’s policy against “abusive” comments and a requirement that individuals obtain approval to speak by first persuading a board member that their comments are in “the public interest.” Practically speaking, these policies allow the board to censor speakers if they criticize officials too harshly. They also make speaking at board meetings “a difficult and intimidating process—one that prevents the Board’s sharpest critics from speaking freely,” reads the complaint.

“If we can’t speak openly and honestly to the school board about our concerns, we can’t be effective advocates for our kids,” said Amanda Dunagan-Price, chair of the Wilson County chapter of Moms for Liberty. “We hope the court will recognize our First Amendment right to speak freely to school officials.”

The defendants in the case are the Wilson County Board of Education, school board Chairman Jamie Farough, Vice Chairman Kimberly McGee, and board members Melissa Lynn, Beth Meyers, Joseph Padilla, Carrie Pfeiffer, and Larry Tomlinson.

The case is Moms for Liberty – Wilson County, TN, et al. v. Wilson County Board of Education, et al. in the United States District Court, Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division. To read the complaint, 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.

IFS Staff

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