Garland, a Biden nominee, on Oct. 4 in a memorandum directed the FBI and U.S. attorneys to draw up plans to target parents who threaten violence or attempt to intimidate educators.
The order came after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) asked the Biden administration to respond due to what it described as acts of “domestic terrorism” against school boards, referring to protests during school board meetings over contentious teachings.
The new suit (pdf) says Garland is effectively wielding federal law enforcement resources “to silence parents and other private citizens who publicly object to and oppose the divisive, harmful, immoral, and racist policies of the ‘progressive’ left that are being implemented by school boards and school officials in public school districts throughout the United States.”
The parents are based in Saline, Michigan, and Loudoun County, Virginia, two areas that have seen heightened backlash in recent months. In Virginia, for instance, many parents opposed a rule that teachers must use a person’s preferred pronouns or face discipline.
“You’ve got the attorney general who’s weaponizing his power, his office to suppress the speech of concerned citizens—parents who are speaking out at public school boards about some of these inane policies like promotion of critical race theory ideology, which teaches the kids to be racist,” Robert Muise, an attorney with the American Freedom Law Center, which is representing the parents, told The Epoch Times.
The Department of Justice has not responded to requests for comment regarding the lawsuit or criticism of the order, which has led to over a dozen state school boards removing themselves or mulling withdrawal from the NSBA.
Lisa Monaco, the department’s second-in-command, defended the policy before Congress earlier this month, asserting it was aimed at making sure law enforcement from the local to federal level was aware of how to report threats and in communication on how to address threats and violence.
“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” Garland wrote in his order.
The plaintiff parents, though, say the policy amounts to “a direct threat and warning to parents and private citizens across the United States, including Plaintiffs, that the Department of Justice and its FBI will be investigating you and monitoring what you say at these school board meetings so be careful about what you say and how you say it, thereby chilling such expression.”
That violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, they argue.
The suit also noted that there are accusations of a conflict of interest because Garland’s son-in-law, Alexander Tanner, is the co-founder and president of Panorama Education, which sells materials and conducts surveys for school districts across the country, including some that appear to have elements of critical race theory.
“He’s got a stake in this, a personal stake in this, through his family members,” Muise said.
Panorama Education declined to comment beyond pointing The Epoch Times to its website, where it disputes allegations it’s linked to critical race theory.
The suit was filed in federal court in Washington. It asks the court to permanently enjoin Garland’s order.