Since last November, the Francis Howell Board of Education has been forbidding individuals from mentioning the name Francis Howell Families or its website during public comments at district board meetings. After one FHF member had his microphone cut off for referencing the website (see FHSD board censors their critics during public comments ), and others received threatening letters from the board, three of those individuals sued the school board for a violation of first amendment rights.
We are pleased to announce that a federal judge in the Eastern Missouri District Court agrees that the board should not be able to stop speakers from mentioning us or our website during public comments. Judge Clark has entered a preliminary injunction against the district, informing them in no uncertain terms that any speaker is free to mention Francis Howell Families and www.francishowellfamilies.org during public comments.
In issuing the injunction, the court found that the board of education did not neutrally apply their policies to all speakers, but rather engaged in viewpoint discrimination against those referencing FHF. The conclusion reads:
The Court finds that Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they have a “fair chance of prevailing” on the merits of their claim, that they will suffer irreparable injury absent a preliminary injunction, that the balance of harms favors an injunction, and that protecting constitutional rights serves the public interest.…The Court enjoins Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees, and all persons in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice of this injunction from enforcing Francis Howell School District Policies 1455 and 1471 to prohibit Plaintiffs’ reference to “Francis Howell Families” or the Francis Howell Families website, www.francishowellfamilies.org, while addressing the school board during the patron-comment period at school board meetings. This preliminary injunction takes effect immediately and remains in effect pending trial in this action or further order of the Court.
The judge’s order may be read in its entirety here. We encourage everyone who so desires to reference FHF and our website in their public comments at future board meetings to do so!
Although this lawsuit was about our right to reference our organization’s name and website in particular, we will defend anyone’s right to speak their mind during public comments without censorship, regardless of their views. As a case in point, we want to thank those opposed to us who spoke and campaigned at the March 17 board meeting, since it was their comments (and the board’s lack of reaction to them) which may have been the final straw that convinced the judge of direct viewpoint discrimination.
For more information:
- Update: Don’t Miss This: Watch Chris Brooks, a plaintiff in the suit, addresses the board on April 21, 2022.
- The St Louis Post Dispatch has also written an article about the lawsuit and injunction, which can be viewed here:
Judge orders Francis Howell officials to stop censoring name of parents’ PAC at board meetings
- To read more about the lawsuit, see: Lawsuit: FHSD Board Violates First Amendment Rights of Critics