| Outlook |

Let the Parents Speak

How did soccer moms morph into “domestic terrorists” bent on mass destruction?


Suddenly, K-12 education has become a major issue in America. Over the past two years, the number of children being homeschooled has nearly doubled from 2.5 million to close to 5 million. And contrary to the stereotype of homeschoolers as either hippies or evangelicals, the percentages of black, Latino, and Asian parents homeschooling are higher than for the general population.

Unquestionably, COVID-19 was the catalyst for much of the explosion in homeschooling, at least in part because during the home learning imposed by lockdowns, parents could see for the first time what and how their children were being taught. Many white parents were not enthusiastic about their children being schooled in their “white privilege” over a century and a half since the Emancipation Proclamation, and a sizeable number of black parents did not want their children turned into perpetual “victims.”

Some parents have opposed the ending of honors classes in the name of “equity” and others the imposition of mask mandates.

Across the board, parents have been horrified by their young children being encouraged to explore their gender identity, asked for their preferred pronouns, and exposed to explicit material. Scenes of irate parents at school board meetings reading from the texts that their children have been assigned have become a staple of the nightly news.

If political newcomer Glenn Youngkin defeats former governor Terry McAuliffe in the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial contest, in a blue state, the latter’s statement — “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” — in one of their debates will be largely responsible.

THAT STATEMENT HAS now been seconded by the Biden administration. In a genuinely shocking one-page memo, dated October 4, United States Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered the FBI, working in conjunction with US Attorneys in every federal judicial district, to discuss strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staffs.

That memo was issued just five days after a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to President Biden urging him to address the “immediate threat” against America’s public schools using the provisions of “the Patriot Act in regards to domestic terrorism.”

The Patriot Act was enacted in the wake of 9/11 to enhance collection and sharing of foreign intelligence information, restrict terrorist funding, and to enhance border security to prevent further mass terrorist attacks. It defined terrorism as unlawful acts of violence intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or affect the conduct of government by “mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

How did soccer moms morph into “domestic terrorists” bent on mass destruction? If Garland was looking for domestic terrorists, BLM and Antifa, two groups that coordinate across state lines and have been involved in rioting in numerous cities, would have seemed more likely targets.

The attorney general cited no evidence of what he termed the “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” Presumably, he was relying on the information provided by the NSBA letter.

That letter included 24 footnotes, most of them news reports of raucous school board meetings. Few had anything to do with criminal conduct. School board members were not subjected to worse harassment than Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who was followed into a public restroom and harangued. No less an authority than President Biden downplayed those actions as “inappropriate” but “part of the process.”

The worst of the crimes against school board members, such as they were, as described by Maud Maron, a former school board president in New York City’s largest school district, included prank phone calls, a single individual yelling “a Nazi salute in protest of masking requirements,” and other cases where the school board adjourned meetings in the face of protests. Nothing that rose to the level of a federal crime or was beyond the capabilities of local law enforcement. One father was removed by police from a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, when he erupted in anger at the school superintendent’s assertion that there had been no adverse consequences from the board-imposed restroom policies. In fact, his daughter had been assaulted by a male student wearing a skirt in a school restroom. The assailant was transferred to another school, where he promptly assaulted another female student.

What normal parent would not have been furious at the superintendent’s deliberately misleading statements concerning a criminal assault that could have destroyed his daughter’s life? (The school board meeting was a month after the assailant had been transferred.) And for that anger, the FBI must be called in?

The most surprising aspect of the Garland memo was the shoddiness of its legal analysis, given his reputation as a superb lawyer and jurist. The First Amendment’s protection of spirited debate does not extend “to attempts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” he asserted. By that standard, Garland should soon be setting up a joint FBI-DOJ task force to patrol university campuses.

But as Andrew McCarthy, the lead federal prosecutor in the first World Trade Center bombing case, pointed out, the attorney general knows very well the First Amendment protects many statements that contain an element of intimidation. McCarthy related that he had a very difficult time securing Department of Justice approval — at a time when Merrick Garland served as a high-ranking official there — to charge Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blink Sheikh” who masterminded the 1993 WTC bombing, with “soliciting acts of violence.”

McCarthy was repeatedly cautioned against conflating protected expressions of hatred for America with criminal incitement so as to avoid chilling free speech. Even actual “threats of violence” are only actionable if the threat of violence is real and imminent.

And to constitute a federal offense, such as would invoke Department of Justice involvement, there must be a threat against “the laws of the United States.” In the Blind Sheikh case, that federal interest was present because he had called for bombing of American military installations, threatening federal property and military personnel. That federal element is absent from contentious school board meetings. And the failure of the attorney general’s memo to include any statement of federal jurisdiction is emblematic of its hasty and shoddy draftsmanship.

As it happens, the attorney general has a serious conflict of interest. His son-in-law heads a company that purveys the type of materials on systemic oppression, white supremacy, and intersectionality that have been at the heart of many of the clashes at school board meetings. McCarthy argues, however, that Garland’s failure to consider that conflict of interest is more an indicator of the rush to put the federal government’s imprimatur on the NSBA’s letter than the reason for the decision. (The keynote speaker at the NSBA’s 2019 convention was Communist professor Angela Davis, a former denizen of the FBI’s most wanted list.)

Rather, the issuance of the Garland memo derives, in McCarthy’s words, from the “Biden Justice Department’s embrace of progressive indoctrination.” And it constitutes a blatant attempt to intimidate and “chill” the free speech of outraged parents — the very thing that the First Amendment was designed to forestall. In that disregard for free and open debate, it is of a piece with the Obama administration’s use of the IRS to discriminate against conservative (and pro-Israel) groups in the granting of tax-exempt status.

FINALLY, the Justice Department’s heavy-handed entry into local schooling disputes is part of a disturbing larger pattern of increasing disregard for parental rights with regard to their children’s upbringing and education. In two early 20th-century cases, Meyer vs. Nebraska (the state may not ban foreign language instruction) and Pierce vs. Society of Sisters (the state may not ban parochial education), the Supreme Court established the principle that children are not “mere creatures of the state,” and parents have a large say in their education. But the Garland memo seeks to deter parents from the exercise of those rights by threatening them for protesting school curricula.

Similarly, in the Alta Fixsler case in England, the courts refused to give any weight to the religious views of her parents against terminating her life. “Who says she shares her parents’ religious view (or would if she could express herself)?” the court basically said. And thus her parents’ religious beliefs are of no moment.

Let me give just one example of how dangerous such reasoning is. An eight-day old Jewish male infant is also incapable of expressing affirmation of his parents’ religious beliefs or of consenting to the infliction of “bodily injury.” Will legislatures or courts now be free to decide that the best interests of the child mitigate against bris milah?

Just one example of how vigilant we must be with regard to all efforts to deny parental rights with respect to their children.


Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 882. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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