Wisconsin Spotlight | Oct. 1, 2020
MADISON — You have the First Amendment right to criticize your school board for its strict mask mandate. You can even tell school board members that you believe mask wearing and social distancing is the domain of “pagan rituals of satanic worshipers.”
What you can’t do as a school district is ban someone from school grounds simply for stating such opinions.
That was the ruling last week from U.S. Eastern District Court of Wisconsin Judge Lynn Adelman, who brushed aside Elmbrook School District’s characterizations that Brookfield resident Heidi Anderson’s comments were offensive or racially intolerant or even inappropriate. The First Amendment, the judge said, protects the school district critic.
So, as much as Elmbrook officials want to, they can’t ban Anderson from school grounds.
Adelman, who has been selective on First Amendment rights when it comes to conservatives, got this one right. His ruling should send a strong message to other school systems — including the Sun Prairie School District, where a parent reportedly was banned from contacting his child’s teachers — that the First Amendment also protects speech that COVID and “tolerance” cops find uncomfortable.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, the district’s ban followed an Aug. 11 school board meeting at which Anderson said her children should be exempt from the “pagan ritual” of wearing face coverings. She said social distancing and face coverings aren’t proven effective against the spread of COVID-19. That, apparently was a bridge too far for school board president Scott Wheeler, who warned Anderson to avoid defamatory comments. Anderson, according to the newspaper, then addressed board member Mushir Hassan, a Muslim.
“This is not defamatory,” Anderson said. “I’m stating facts. You’re a leader of the Islamic community, are you not? My kids are Christians. They are not subject to face coverings. Christian children should not be forced to wear face coverings any more than children who are Islamic or Muslim should be forced to — as you’ve put it — be subject to the American style of sexualization of children that have to wear less clothing than you’re comfortable with your children wearing.”
In ex-communicating Anderson, the district claimed it was merely upholding its policy and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That prohibits discrimination or the fostering of a hostile work environment based on religion. Adelman wasn’t buying it. The law does not apply to a private citizen speaking her mind at a school board meeting.
“This ban has no rational connection to enforcing restrictions on citizen comments at board meetings and thus can only be viewed as a way of punishing the plaintiff for the comments she made during the prior board meeting,” Adelman wrote.
The case bears a striking resemblance to an incident that recently occurred in the Sun Prairie School District.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported, a father of a freshman student was banned from making contact with his son’s teachers and other staff after he complained about an English assignment. The teacher had asked students to compare the Black Lives Matter movement and its fight against police brutality and racism to the millions of Jews murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust.
The frustrated father reached out to Superintendent Brad Saron. He told the education chief that the assignment was inappropriate, a lesson taught out of context in order to drive a radical narrative. Saron disagreed. When the parent said he would “dedicate every minute of free time I have to call attention” to the assignment and what he sees as the radical indoctrination of student, Saron said he found the statement “troubling — certainly meant to intimidate.”
“As such, I’m asking that all dialogue between you and the school district or individual schools be directed through building principals.To be clear, you are not able to contact teachers individually, but only through the principal,” Saron wrote.
The parent, who spoke to Empower Wisconsin, said liberal educators are more committed to social re-engineering than free expression.
“It’s such a trap. You can’t really have this conversation, and they know that,” he said. “They will tell you that any counter argument to their equivalencies is racist.”