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17 state AGs, including Oklahoma's, oppose DOJ's focus on violence, threats against school boards

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Office of Attorney General John O'Connor
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Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor signs a document on the day of his swearing-in ceremony at the Oklahoma state Capitol on July 23, 2021.

Oklahoma's John O'Connor was one of 17 state attorneys general to sign a Monday letter accusing President Joe Biden and his Department of Justice of "suppression of free speech rights of parents" by way of the department's recent directive addressing threats, harassment and violence against school officials across the country.

"Over the last year, as legal officers, we have advised our constituencies of their constitutional right to free speech and encouraged public engagement to voice their opinions on important issues affecting their country, state, and communities, especially parents who have concerns about their children’s education," the letter, penned by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and addressed to Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, reads. "Your recent action seeks to chill lawful dissent by parents voiced during local school board meetings by characterizing them as unlawful and threatening."

The letter says the attorneys general take issue with a recent memorandum from Garland's Justice Department which addresses "harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools" and directs federal law enforcement to work with their state, local and Tribal counterparts to "discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend."

In a Monday statement announcing he had signed the letter, O'Connor claimed -- apparently falsely -- that the Biden administration has referred to "[p]arents who advocate for their children at school board meetings in a nonviolent way" as "domestic terrorists." Public Radio Tulsa was not able to verify that any officials at the White House or Justice Department have done so; O'Connor's office did not return a request for clarification.

The Associated Press reports that spreaders of disinformation originally made the false claim that the nonprofit National School Boards Association, which asked the Biden administration to investigate and prosecute violence and threats, "asked the feds to crack down on anti-critical race theory protests as ‘domestic terrorism.'"

NPR reports the DOJ directive came "amidst a surge in confrontations at local school board meetings over topics like masking, vaccine requirements and how race is taught in schools."

On Twitter, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he backed O'Connor, writing, "I fully support [Attorney General O'Connor] taking a stand against the Biden administration and defending Oklahoma parents' First Amendment rights!"

Stitt communications director Carly Atchison tweeted several times in apparent praise of O'Connor's signing of the letter, using three flexing muscle emojis and writing, "Boom."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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