I am a firm believer in the U. S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, including the right to free speech. I do not, however, believe that I have the absolute right to speak whenever and wherever I want.
For example, I do not believe that, on a whim, I should expect to stand before the Supreme Court and have my say. There are rules about who can do that and under what circumstances. I do not believe that I have the absolute right to go into the halls of Congress and make my way to the microphone while Congress is in session.
Over a quarter of a century ago, I was alerted to a man wishing to attend, vote during an upcoming election, and possibly speak to the congregation I served, even though he had terminated his membership in that church several months prior. Even though it was technically not a public meeting, as is a church service, I allowed him to attend the meeting but did not allow him either to vote or to address the gathered body. Like most organizations, we had rules about those things.
Now, in the county in which I reside, a man who lives in another county is demanding the right to speak at a school board meeting. He has asked several times and has always been denied because one of the three requirements is that one live in the county. This county. Not his county. Now he has notified the county school board that if he continues to be denied, he will sue because his “civil rights are being violated.”
The man self-describes, according to the local news outlet, as a self-proclaimed “First Amendment auditor.” But he does not live in the county, does not pay the taxes that support the local county school system, and I have to wonder what does he want to say and why does he think he should get to say it?
I neither expect nor desire an answer to that question because I, a proponent of all things “constitutional,” believe that what happens in the county school system is the business of the local taxpayers and the parents of those who are students in the system. There may be other individuals and agencies who have a legitimate interest but a person from another country who simply wants to cause a scene? No, I think not.
And I assume the “causing of a scene” because this individual has a history of participating in at least two lawsuits, including against a former employer. And while there may have been standing for that lawsuit, I fail to see why and where he has standing to address a school board that, by the rules, he is not authorized to address. If the local citizens wish to change those rules, they can petition the school board for a change or they can vote out the current members and vote in new members.
The school board allots 45 minutes for public comments at meetings and each person wishing to address the board must agree to limit their comments to five minutes. Shouldn’t locals who support the system and those who are parents have priority? And if this gentleman doesn’t hold in regard the rules about who can speak, can it even be assumed that he will comply with the five-minute time constraints?
So, if he prevails, can just anyone speak at the school board meeting? Do they even have to be from Georgia? Can anyone with any agenda then force their way into any public meeting without regard for any rules or decorum? We already have enough chaos and lawlessness (which, after all, is a disregard for certain rules) in this country, do we not?
I would encourage the school board to hold their ground, even if a lawsuit looms and I would encourage the man to speak to his own county’s school board where, I am sure, he probably has a right to be heard.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at email@example.com.]