Atlanta, GA – Alison Hair and Cindy Martin, members of an organization known as Mama Bears of Forsyth County, filed a federal lawsuit Monday that claims Chairman Wesley McCall and the Forsyth County Board of Education violated their First Amendment rights by banning Hair from participating in Board meetings.
The Institute for Free Speech filed the complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Martha Astor an attorney for the Institute said, “The Board may think their speech is offensive, but it’s protected by the First Amendment. School officials cannot censor or ban parents from repeating ‘inappropriate’ language at board meetings, especially when they quote from relevant school materials and library books,”
At the heart of the lawsuit is a March 15 meeting of the Board of Education when Hair attempted to read one passage from a book that contains graphic descriptions of sex acts that parents wants removed from school system libraries.
Board Chairman Wesley McCall demanded she stop reading and authorized a letter signed by the entire Board to be sent to Hair prohibiting her from participating in any future meetings until she provides a written guarantee that she will abide by the Chair’s directives.
Astor said the Board, cannot require that citizens sacrifice their First Amendment rights as a precondition for participating in meetings, the lawsuit explains.
Board rules allow members of the public to reserve three minutes of speaking time at any regular monthly board meeting to share their views on topics relevant to Forsyth County Schools.
Multiple district residents, including Hair, Martin and other Mama Bears members have used their time to read aloud from school library books they consider pornographic. While these materials are available to kids in school, the Chair has cut off and banned speakers who read from them at Board meetings when he deems the language inappropriate or profane.
“This lawsuit does not try to resolve the question of which books should be available in school libraries, but instead addresses unlawful attempts to sanitize how parents speak about those books in the presence of elected officials and other adults,” the lawsuit states. “The First Amendment guarantees Plaintiffs’ rights to speak out and petition the government about which books belong in school libraries, and to do so by reading from those books during board meetings.”
The lawsuit further states, “The Board’s unconstitutional demands and policies are exacerbated by aggressive enforcement tactics and a chilling environment for dissent. Wesley McCall, the board’s chair and a defendant in the lawsuit, has opened every meeting since February with a reading of the public participation policy and a warning that violators will be stopped if they use profane or inappropriate language. The Board also began stationing two armed police officers and a security guard at meetings, with one officer hovering nearby when members of the public spoke. Chair McCall has repeatedly interrupted and argued with speakers he disagrees with, sometimes refusing to return the speaking time he takes from them.”
Martin said, “We will not back down from protecting our children or defending our First Amendment rights. The Mama Bears of Forsyth County formed spontaneously when mothers across the district discovered the sexually explicit books in our children’s school libraries. When Chairman McCall and the board censored us from reading the explicit language in these books because children were in the room, they proved our point.”