Should the Justice Department Monitor School Board Meetings?

In a word, no.

In ten words, ominous FBI surveillance like this would make Richard Nixon blush.

Clark Neily of the libertarian Cato Institute and I often disagree  —  about drug legalization, police behavior and prosecutorial power.  But we found it easy to collaborate on an op-ed about Merrick Garland’s memo enlisting the power of the federal government to intimidate parents who voice emphatic dissent at local school board meetings.

Our full op-ed is here.  This  is a taste:

How bad of an idea is it to involve federal law enforcement in the culture clash over masking, curriculum, and other hot-button issues in public schools?

The White House should categorically disavow Merrick Garland’s ill-conceived…memorandum, [in which he] pledged to address a supposed “rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.”

Federal law enforcement agencies have a disturbing track record when it comes to culture clashes [of the kind involved, for example, in teaching Critical Race Theory to third graders]. Abuses by the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program once prompted the Church Committee to observe that “the Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts.”

Those words seem more quaint than instructive when measured against Garland’s breezy memo directing the FBI and every U.S. attorney’s office to ferret out and, by conspicuously unspecified means, temper parental dissent. In a feeble attempt to make the deployment of federal agents to local school board meetings less alarming, Garland glosses over the critical difference between permissible political dissent and the criminal “harassment” against which he proposes to deploy the full resources of his $32 billion-a-year department….

Will it be deemed “harassment” when a mother at a school board meeting angrily objects to her children being taught that some people are born to be oppressors and others victims? Will it be “intimidation” when a distraught father protests emphatically that the school’s masking policy is either too stringent or not stringent enough? Will we learn the answers to these questions by an early morning knock at the family’s door inviting mom and dad to a legally perilous “interview” about the source of their beliefs, whom they’ve been talking to, and where the next meeting of similarly concerned parents is going to be?…

Some of the issues now percolating in the national debate about what to teach children rouse strong emotion. No serious person thinks that justifies violence. But likewise, no serious person, and certainly not the attorney general, can properly conflate violence with vigorous or even furious debate. Nowhere is the need for diversity of viewpoints more crucial than in the education of our children. And nowhere is the presence of a censorious Big Brother more unwelcome than in this special domain.

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