Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Protecting First Amendment Values at St. Johns County School Board Meetings

Our late U.S. Attorney General Robert Francis Kennedy said, "If the First Amendment were written in the style of Saint Paul, it would have said, 'But the greatest of these is speech.'"  

In his spirit, I wrote St. Johns County School Board today, 230th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, warning against a possible Pearl Harbor style planned attack on free speech rights.

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Slavin <>
To: <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>; <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Wed, Dec 15, 2021 2:33 pm
Subject: First Amendment

Dear Messrs. Forson, Upchurch, Canan, Coleman and Mignon, Ms. Barrera and Ms. Slough, et al:
  1. I listened with interest to the colloquy near the end of our December 14, 2021 St. Johns County School Board meeting on First Amendment issues.
  2. Our Founders believed that the answer to speech is more speech, not censorship or retaliation. 
  3. I would hesitate to adopt any modification to School Board rules to prevent one Douglas Anthony Russo, or any other disfavored speakers, from speaking.
  4. I disagree with almost every word that Mr, Russo said yesterday.  
  5. He is, at best, bigoted, misguided, misanthropic and misleading, and an extremist who spouts provocative falsehoods.
  6. But I am a patriotic American, one whose Polish and Irish ancestors escaped Russian pogroms and Great Britain's genocide (Irish potato famine)
  7. My father volunteered the day after Pearl Harbor, serving the 82nd Airborne Division in WWII, with three combat jumps in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy, helping liberate the first French town freed from the Nazis on June 6, 1944. The 82nd Airborne Divn. Assn. named its South Jersey Chapter the "CPL Edward A. Slavin Chapter" in his honor. 
  8. In the spirit of generations of Americans who fought, bled and died for our freedom, I would ask that you kindly honor their memory, pause and reflect.  Please do not overreact to one (1) extremist speaker.
  9. Changing School Board rules to freeze out a disfavored speaker invites First Amendment litigation.
  10. Our School Board has often lost constitutional rights litigation. 
  11. I reckon our School Board would probably lose once again if it adopted content-based restrictions on First Amendment rights.  See., e.g., New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964), which noted America's "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials. See Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U. S. 1, 337 (1949); De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353 (1937)."
  12. Our Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 586 U.S. 215 (2015) that content-based laws targeting free speech rights require "strict scrutiny." 
  13. The School Board must not modify its public forum with illegal viewpoint discrimination in violation of our First, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 
  14. CafĂ© Erotica v. St. Johns County, 360 F.3d 1274 (11th Cir. 2004) struck down our County's overbroad zoning regulation of a business owner's large billboard criticizing the County's code enforcement officer, Mr. James Acosta, as a "fat ass Barney Fife," one who allegedly cost our County thousands of dollars in "lost lawsuits" due to selective enforcement.
  15. Our First Amendment deserves "breathing space."  NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 433 (1963) New York Times. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1974); Gasparinetti v. Kerr, 568 F.2d 311, 314-17 (3d Cir. 1977)(illegal restrictions on policemen’s First Amendment rights); Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 479 767, 772, 777 (1986)(O’Connor, J.)(newspaper entitled to breathing space in defamation case); Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 52, 56 (1988) (Rehnquist, J.) (magazine parody of TV preacher entitled to breathing space); Keefe v. Ganeakos, 418 F.2d 359, 362 (1st Cir. 1969)(Aldrich, C.J.)(chilling effect on First Amendment illegal suspension of teacher over Atlantic Monthly article on Vietnam War); Parducci v. Rutland, 316 F.Supp. 352, 355, 357 (M.D. Ala 1970)(Johnson, C.J.)(chilling effect in illegal firing of English teacher over Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House.
  16. Despite constitutional law establishing that the First Amendment deserves "breathing space," the School Board is considering an unwise action that would chill free speech rights. 
  17. Justice Robert Houghwot Jackson, later our Nuremberg War Crimes prosecutor, wrote for the Supreme Court in the landmark flag salute case, "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
  18. Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis wrote that our "government is the potent omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928)(Brandeis J., dissenting), dissent heeded and case overruled, Katz v . United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
  19. Thank you in advance for giving our First Amendment "breathing space."  The First Amendment, in its majesty, protects our free speech rights. 
  20. Please feel free to call me to discuss protecting First Amendment values. 
Happy holidays!
Thank you.
Sincerely yours, 
Ed Slavin


No comments: