On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed all U.S. Attorneys and the FBI to meet with law enforcement leaders across the country to collaborate in investigating parents who protest critical race theory and other school policies. 

DOJ’s announcement comes a week after the National School Board Association (NSBA) requested federal assistance from President Biden to combat “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” NSBA characterized the substance of the threats as related to mask policies and critical race theory:

Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula. 

Despite multiple federal lawsuits charging public schools with teaching critical race theory, in their letter to Biden, NSBA contended that critical race theory is not being taught to elementary and high school students:

This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.

In a press release, DOJ outlined its plans:

[Our] efforts are expected to include the creation of a task force…to determine how federal enforcement tools can be used to prosecute these crimes, and ways to assist state, Tribal, territorial and local law enforcement where threats of violence may not constitute federal crimes.

Heritage Foundation’s Legal Fellow GianCarlo Canaparo and Senior Advisor Mike Howell criticized DOJ’s announcement, writing:

Garland has demonstrated, disappointingly, that he is beholden to powerful leftist political groups and perfectly happy to let them use the threat of federal government’s law enforcement power to suppress their critics’ right to free speech. The promised independence of the DOJ is a farce….[I]t is more important to Garland to spend scarce law enforcement resources appeasing liberal interest groups than on more pressing national concerns.

What’s so concerning about this announcement is the thought that DOJ seems poised to use the threat of prosecution to squelch protest and suppress dissent. To be clear, threats and physical violence are illegal under state law. Speech and protest, by contrast, are constitutionally protected.

The involvement of parents in the education of their children is important, and we should teach children how to engage others on policy with respect and civility. Acts of violence are recognized as federal crimes, and the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement should pursue all colorable cases against perpetrators only to the extent permitted by law, and regardless of the motivation of the perpetrators. The federal government should not join the protesters, threatening federal prosecution and discouraging parents from sharing their views.