There is quite the fervor among certain American parents about the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. In a recent case out of Missouri, Judge Stephen Clark granted an injunction in favor of one such group of parents. Brooks v. Francis Howell Sch. Dist., 4:22-CV-00169-SRC, 2022 WL 1185147 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 21, 2022). The parents had formed a political action committee (“PAC”) to combat the alleged proliferation of critical race theory and “pornography” within the Francis Howell School District. They filed suit in 2022, challenging the school district’s application of two policies that regulated public solicitation and advertisement on school grounds. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the school district violated their First Amendment rights when it muted their microphones and cut their speaking time at public school board meetings after the plaintiffs mentioned their PAC, Francis Howell Families, and referred to the PAC’s website. The school board—citing its solicitation policies—informed the public that if “any speakers reference Francis Howell Families or the website” at future board meetings, “they will immediately be stopped and will forfeit the remainder of their time” and “may also be prohibited from future opportunities to speak.” However, the board did not mute the microphone of other speakers who referred to other organizations, including the organization Black Voices Matter.
The parties and court agreed that the public comment period of school board meetings is a limited public forum in which the school board may impose reasonable and viewpoint neutral restrictions on speech. But the court found that defendants engaged in viewpoint discrimination by invoking their solicitation policies to selectively censor references to the Francis Howell Families PAC while permitting other speakers to reference other groups. The court found that the plaintiffs had a fair chance of prevailing on the merits of their claim and granted a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing the solicitation policies to prohibit plaintiffs from speaking about their PAC.