Could officials bar speakers from criticizing the government?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

No. A federal district court in California, for instance, ruled
that such content-based restrictions are unconstitutional, invalidating a school
district bylaw that prohibited people at school board meetings from criticizing
school district employees. During a school board meeting, the plaintiff had
attempted to address the job qualifications and performance of the district
superintendent. When the plaintiff mentioned the superintendent’s
qualifications, the board president interrupted her and stated that the
plaintiff “was moving into a personnel issue.” The president told the plaintiff
that, pursuant to a bylaw, her criticisms could not be made in a public board
meeting. The court reasoned that the bylaw’s prohibition on any criticism,
“complaint or charge against an employee of the District” violated the
plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. Leventhal v. Vista Unified School
973 F. Supp. 951 (S.D. Cal. 1997). Similarly, a federal district
court in Virginia struck down a school board bylaw that prohibited personal
attacks during public comments at meetings. Bach v. School Board of the City
of Virginia Beach,
139 F.Supp. 2d 738 (E.D. Va. 2001).