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Free Speech VICTORY: ACLJ Steps In To Defend Parental Rights Group's Free Speech Rights After Mayor "Removed Flyers From Bulletin Boards"


Abigail A. Southerland

September 7, 2023

3 min read

Free Speech



The ACLJ has secured a major free speech victory for a local parental rights group in Massachusetts.

In early 2022, a group of parents and citizens in the City of Newburyport, Massachusetts, formed Citizens for Responsible Education (CRE) to address concerns regarding public school indoctrination and certain troubling instruction occurring in the Newburyport public schools. CRE’s goal is to restore a healthy, non-political education system that allows for all children to thrive.

In accordance with its mission, on October 20, 2022, CRE planned to host an educational forum titled What is Social-Emotional Learning? What every parent needs to know about SEL and Culturally Responsive Teaching in our public schools. The program intended to feature two guest speakers discussing a range of topics, including critical race theory; gender identity ideology; sex education curriculum; and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. The program was open to the public.

CRE members posted flyers promoting the event on public bulletin boards located in Newburyport’s city hall and public library. However, on October 14, 2022, Matt Petry, a reporter for The Daily News of Newburyport, tweeted that “Mayor Sean Reardon confirmed to the Daily News that he personally took down CRE flyers in the Newburyport Public Library” because “[a]fter reviewing their content it was not in line with the City of Newburyport’s values of being an inclusive and welcoming community.” On October 20, 2022, Jim Sullivan, also a reporter for the Daily News, confirmed the removal of CRE’s flyers from both the library and city hall.

Following news reports that CRE’s flyers had been removed, and to prevent future incidents of arbitrary and vague application of the policy and unequal treatment of protected speech, CRE requested that the City change its posting policy. When the City failed to respond, CRE, with the assistance of Massachusetts Family Institute and Attorney Kenneth A. Tashjy, served a demand letter on the City of Newburyport asserting that the policy was unconstitutional and that the mayor’s actions as a government official constituted a willful deprivation of CRE’s free speech rights as guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. CRE explained that when Mayor Reardon ripped down the group’s educational program flyer because he viewed its content as “not in line with the City of Newburyport’s values of being an inclusive and welcoming community,” he had engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of federal law.

Upon engaging the services of the ACLJ, CRE was able to reach a resolution with the City. In addition to receiving a monetary payment to cover the damages CRE suffered, Newburyport’s Mayor Reardon agreed to issue a public statement acknowledging that his actions in “remov[ing] flyers from bulletin boards” and the City’s posting policies should have better promoted the constitutionally protected free speech rights of CRE and, in the future, postings may not be censored based on their content or the viewpoints expressed. Additionally, Newburyport has agreed to revise its posting policies by removing its prohibition on religious flyers and its vague flyer review and approval process.

This is a significant victory for CRE and other parental organizations around Massachusetts and the country who choose action over complacency and are willing to challenge the dogma of the day and fight for what is right and just.

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