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BREVARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: First Amendment Crushed In Their Hands. (“Liberal Left” Is “Name Calling.”)

On March 9, 2021, the Brevard County School Board held a meeting at 5:30 PM. One of the items that was not an agenda item but did come up was a document sent by the school system to employees on for working with LGBTQ students. People who supported the document and newly declared rights of LGBTQ students as well as those opposed to the document lined up both outside the building and made comments during the public comment portion of the meeting.

We are not going to talk about the document or the guidelines. That’s a post for another day.

We are however, going to talk about how the Board sought to restrict people’s rights as codified in the First Amendment.

Prior to comments from the public, Chair Misty Belford read the rules for public comments. Those rules included time limits (3:00 minutes,) and pandemic protocols. At timestamp 00:58:00 Belford reads the following:

Please listen carefully to the rules of decorum as they will be heavily enforced this evening. Always remember that reasonable decorum is expected at all times. Your statement should be directed at the board chairman. As chairman, I may interrupt, warn or terminate a participant’s statement when time is up if it is personally directed, abusive, obscene or irrelevant.

Should an individual not observe proper etiquette, I may request the individual leave the meeting. Let’s all encourage an environment that is appropriate for our children who may be present or watching from home.

Right out of the gate, these rules are in trouble from a legal standpoint. First, no one can know for sure what a “reasonable decorum” is. It is certainly a floating target depending on who is running the meeting. While we are against meetings that become shouting matches, we are appalled at the idea that a Chair person could determine that someone was not maintaining “reasonable decorum” for speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

When Belford says, people are not allowed to make statements that are “personally directed, abusive, obscene or irrelevant,” she dives further down the rabbit hole. When Belford says that statements that are “personally directed” are not allowed, the biggest violator of that standard is in the room in the form of the School Board members themselves. How many times have we heard members speak glowingly about each other, employees, and citizens? Aren’t they personally directed statements? If you want to say that the rule is trying to prevent “negative” statements, you run smack dab into the what is called a “viewpoint based” restriction. “Viewpoint based restrictions” are when the government allows one point of view (in this case positive statements about people) but not another viewpoint (such as a negative statement about someone.)

As far as “abusive statements,” we have no idea what that means either. One of the commenters that Belford interrupted said the words “liberal left.” We are going to discuss that later on, but certainly no one in their right mind can say that the term is “abusive.”

Another shark that is circling these rules is the idea of “prior restraint,” which is the government restricting speech by rule, law, or statute. The government cannot restrict speech that is protected by the First Amendment. In the case of Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the Supreme Court wrote:

“[t]he special vice of a prior restraint is that communication will be suppressed . . . before an adequate determination that it is unprotected by the First Amendment.” The prohibition on prior restraint, thus, is essentially a limitation on restraints until a final judicial determination that the restricted speech is not protected by the First Amendment. It is a limitation, for example, against temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions pending final judgment, not against permanent injunctions after a final judgment is made that the restricted speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

The essential part of this is that the government may only place prior restraint on speech that has been determined to not be protected by the First Amendment. Here, the School Board is attempting to prevent speech that in part, has been deemed Constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.

That is not to say that the rules that admonish against obscenity (which is NOT protected speech) and off topic speech (which is not protected in limited public forums such as School Board meetings in order to keep the meeting focused) are not Constitutional. It is the other types of speech that the Board cannot restrict, but yet does.

In short, the School Board has no legal right to require speakers not to be “personal” or “abusive.”

At timestamp 1:04:00 of the meeting, a citizen by the name of Lois steps up to the microphone. At 1:05:30, Lois says this:

“For the liberal left who relies so much on science…..”

This sent Chairperson Misty Belford into somewhat of a tizzy, who interrupted the speaker:

Chairperson Misty Belford: So ma’am, I am going to interrupt you…..I’ve stopped your time…..so you are not missing your time, okay?

Speaker: Pardon me?

Belford: I’ve stopped your time so I’m not using your time to address this. But we are not going to do name calling. Okay? From anyone who is speaking tonight.

Speaker: I’m not insulting anyone, I’m stating a fact.

Belford: You’re refering to ‘liberal left’….. let’s just talk issue and move forward please.

(Who knew that the term “liberal left” was “name calling.” Furthermore, other speakers referred to the “religious right” and other identifiers and Belfoid didn’t say a word. This means that Belford stopped a speaker on the basis of the content of what she said.)

Of course we,as advocates of the First Amendment, were stunned not because Belford had stopped someone from saying “liberal left,” but because Belford thought she had the ability to stop someone from saying something she didn’t like. If the person had used the term “conservative right,” we would feel the same way. It is not about what was said, but the idea that Belford thinks she has the legal ability to restrict the speech of citizens.

The speaker didn’t challenge Belford and neither did anyone else on the Board which shows their (lack of) commitment to the rights of people and the Constitution.

Later in the meeting at timestamp 03:06:26, a young woman named Samantha commented. The exchange with the Chair went like this:

Speaker: So first of all I would like to say that there are a lot of parents here tonight that are very concerned with their child’s safety. And a lot of those same parents were the ones who screamed at me, called me a bitch, a whore, a prostitute….

Belford: Whoa Whoa whoa…..whoa whoa….I can’t allow you to say those words in here, okay? I need you to make it sure that you keep it clean

While one may consider the “b-word” to be inappropriate or even “offensive,” it is still protected speech.

In a case called Cohen v. California, a man was convicted of walking down the hall of a courthouse with a jacket that read, “F**k The Draft.” (Yes, we find the word offensive to some extent as well, but we would never seek to ban it or restrict it in public or at a governmental meeting where ideas are being exchanged.)

The Supreme Court ruled the expression which some may consider to be “offensive” is protected speech:

Finally, in arguments before this Court, much has been made of the claim that Cohen’s distasteful mode of expression was thrust upon unwilling or unsuspecting viewers, and that the State might therefore legitimately act as it did in order to protect the sensitive from otherwise unavoidable exposure to appellant’s crude form of protest. Of course, the mere presumed presence of unwitting listeners or viewers does not serve automatically to justify curtailing all speech capable of giving offense. See, e.g., Organization for a Better Austin v. Keefe, 402 U.S. 415 (1971).

If you are wondering “what about the children being subjected to such “horrible” speech, the Court essentially answered that by saying “don’t listen, avert your eyes or walk away.”

The bottom line is that restricting “offensive” words tramples on the rights of people by claiming a non-existent right – that of the right not to be “offended.”

There is also the pressing question which hits to the heart of the matter: “why does the government or some government flunky get to say what is ‘offensive’ and impose their standards on the rest of the citizenry?”

We’ve said this before and will cut and past it here:

In 1988, the US Supreme Court ruled in Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46:

At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern.

“[T]he freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty — and thus a good unto itself — but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole.”

Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 U. S. 485, 466 U. S. 503-504 (1984). We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions. The First Amendment recognizes no such thing as a “false” idea. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U. S. 323, 418 U. S. 339 (1974). As Justice Holmes wrote,”when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market. . . .”

Hmmmmm…..maybe the School Board members and their legal counsel missed that case as it is 30 years old. Maybe those members who want to direct students and their education never took a class, discussed or heard of the First Amendment. Yet surely the School Board could not have missed the case of Matal v. Slants, could they? After all, the case was decided just a few years ago. The Supreme Court ruled that:

[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”

[….]

A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.

The Court made it clear that instead of restricting and or banning speech which someone in the government found “offensive,” the government had to support the right of the speech to be heard.

A quick look at Belford’s bio page at the Brevard County School Board website yields this nugget:

In addition to her work with Brevard Public Schools, Mrs. Belford is an adjunct professor at Rollins College in Winter Park teaching courses in communication and leadership. She is a drowning prevention advocate serving as volunteer President for Swim Safe Forever, Inc. and providing self-rescue swim instruction through her company, KidSafe Swim Institute, Inc. in north Brevard. She earned both her bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and her master’s degree in corporate communication and technology at Rollins College.

Apparently Belford’s degrees and her teachings as a professor never covered the First Amendment.

Sadly, it gets worse.

At 3:12:43, Belford invokes the “Chairperson’s Privilege” to make a comment that is outside of the agenda. (No such “privilege” exists in Roberts Rules of Order, but we are willing to concede that this may be something special and unique to the School Board’s meeting policies.)

Belford says:

First I would like to thank all of our students that joined us this evening to speak. You guys were phenominal and we appreciate you taking the time come out.

We always love it when our students join us so please don’t hesitate to come and hang out with us for the board meetings. We absolutely love to hear from you guys.

The other thing I want to say is that I am mortified with what all of you had to go through to get into our building today. We were working as much as we could to insure a safe and respectful environment but unfortunately we were not able to keep them from doing the things they were doing.

Our law enforcement representatives who are here this evening, reaching out to legal from the sheriff’s department, from our legal department, trying to see what we could do about it and unfortunately there was nothing we could do to stop them from being out there.

So I apologize. As I said I was mortified, especially mortified that our children were exposed to it not that I think anyone be exposed to it, but especially our children being exposed to it just is horrific.

We will continue to have conversations to see if there is anything that we can do and if you all have feed back as to um, you know, considering short of our inability to force them to leave the property, or to do things differently that we could have done that would have been beneficial, please reach out to us. We will be more than happy to take that feedback because that is not the environment we want here at the school board building.

It seems clear that Belford is upset the people were protesting and wanted to find a way to end the protests or at least have them removed from the property.

Apparently she doesn’t realize that protests are still protected speech. Her attempts, the school board attempts and the attempts by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to entertain – even for a moment – the idea of stopping people from protesting shows a disturbing pattern.

(At timestamp 03:13:55 the camera angle shifts from looking toward the dais to looking at the crowd in attendance. A public school employee is seen nodding their head as Belford attacks the rights of citizens and apologizes for the failure to restrict those rights. Instead of nodding, we are shaking our head at the ignorance.)

Belford wasn’t done yet. Her remarks continued:

With that being said, because was are in an official public meeting, I do have a little more control so several of you I had to interrupt. It had nothing to do with you personally, I was just trying to make sure we were all on the same page as far as expectations and focused on delivering that message. And with that I have to say to each and every one of you, thank you for being incredibly respectful this evening. Obviously some emotional issues and we had some very diverse perspectives but I couldn’t be more proud that we didn’t have issues. Everybody managed to work together for the most part this evening and so we appreciate that.

Belford did not “have to interrupt.” When a speaker has the floor, except in limited circumstances, no other speaker is allowed to interrupt them. None of those circumstances involve someone not liking what was said.

Certainly, speakers can be stopped for language that incites immediate lawfulness or is obscene, but that wasn’t what happened.

Belford interrupted speakers because she didn’t like what was being said. While she may claim that she was trying to keep the meeting “respectful,” that doesn’t allow her to violate the rights of people.

Once again, from Matal v. Tam:

[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”

The fact that Belford stopped speakers from making Constitutionally protected remarks is bad enough. The fact that the speakers didn’t defend their rights is bad. The fact that the attorney in the room from the School District didn’t say anything is equally bad.

In fact the whole group of Board members and staff should be ashamed at the attack on the rights of citizens.

To quote Thomas Jefferson writing in the Declaration of Independence:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Nothing will come of this. The Board will sit there and nod. Employees won’t speak up. Citizens will accede to the ignorance and illegal actions coming from the dais.

In short, the entire School Board and employees failed to do their primary responsibility – to protect the rights of people.

All of the members of the School Board claim higher education degrees.

It is a shame that none of them can remember what we all learned in elementary school civics classes.



7 Responses to “BREVARD COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD: First Amendment Crushed In Their Hands. (“Liberal Left” Is “Name Calling.”)”

  1. Thomas Gaume says:

    I watched this entire meeting.

    Sitting there watching as people allowed their 1st Amendment rights to be violated over, and over again.

    During the meeting it was pointed out that many of the accommodations and policies put in place regarding the LGBT topic were there due to case, State, and Federal laws, and that the Board must act to avoid litigation.

    I have to wonder; Exactly how much can one make by suing the County for violating their Constitutional rights?

    • AAfterwit says:

      Thomas Gaume,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You raise a good point in that the Board’s concerns were about Federal and State guidelines concerning working with LGBTQ individuals, but the Board is devoted to violating the Federal Constitution, the State of Florida Constitution, as well as a host of case laws and statutes.

      Of course, the problem with suing people or the Board is that the money won will come from somewhere which means either increases in taxes or money taken away from schools and students.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Percy Veer says:

    I believe most conservatives were brought up respecting authority figures, so when an elected official tells us we can’t do something most will tend to comply, mainly because we don’t fully understand the nuances of our first amendment rights and not fully understanding what our options are when they are violated. My understanding is that your only recourse is to hire a lawyer and sue the board for violating your first amendment rights, most citizens probably don’t have the time or resources to go down that path. I applaud those that at least tried to have their opinions heard.

    To me the obvious fix is to have these board attorneys have a legal responsibility to protect the civil rights of all attendees. I believe the way things are setup on most boards is that the attorneys work at the pleasure of the board and only answer specific questions when asked by the governing board. Maybe if we made board attorneys legally responsible to monitor and bring up civil rights violations during these meetings this behavior would change. Seems like we all know it’s wrong but not sure how to fix it, this problem isn’t unique to just the school board, happens all the time at almost every government board meeting. Maybe boards should include a citizen advocate member that fully understands Roberts rules or order and constitutionally protected speech that could halt a meeting when a board member or citizen crosss the line.

    • Thomas Gaume says:

      Percy,
      There is very little a citizen can do to cross that line. The Government boards on the other hand, frequently trip over it.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Percy Veer,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You are correct in that most people don’t have the time or the resources to sue the Board. As noted below, if a person wins, any award will come out of the taxpayers pockets. Even the cost of the defense for the School Board would come out of the pockets of the taxpayers. The people who screwed up and violated the law won’t be held accountable by paying any judgement or even by losing their job. Other than personal integrity, where is the incentive for people on Boards to act in a legal manner on issues like this?

      As for the “Board Attorney,” when we started this blog years ago, one of the impetus was the fact that attorneys for boards, cities, etc., don’t work for the people. They don’t work for those that are paying the bills. That seems wrong to us in that in this, and many other cases, we see attorneys supporting the illegal actions and decisions of boards, commissions, and councils because the boards, commissions, and councils are their clients and by legal canons, they HAVE to back them.

      Normal people on the streets are paying the government to protect boards, etc., from challenges to the boards illegal actions.

      We’d love to see the job of attorneys be beholding to the people – and not the boards. It will never happen though.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.

  3. […] heard from some folks inside of the Brevard County School District building concerning our post on Friday where we noted the School Board is denying people their Constitutional […]

  4. Howie Feldersnatches says:

    MARCH 15, 2021 AT 9:13 AM
    Wtf are y’all talking about? I filled out a card and they called my name to speak at this meeting. Were you even there?? The dumba*es and bigots gathered out front weren’t there to give public comment in the meeting. They were there to try to spread coronavirus, be disruptive, and yell things like ‘faggots!’ and ‘pedophiles!’ at kids. It was disgusting. They were just too stupid to sign the signup sheets which were OUTSIDE and available to everyone. It’s the same people who gather on Eau Gallie and Riverside/US 1 waving trump flags. Spoiler alert: they lie a lot.

    While those very insane people may have been there trying to relive the glory days of storming, looting, and vandalizing the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th, the Mom’s For Liberty group, led by former loser School Board Member Tina Descovitch, organized that event with the help of Republican school board members because the Republican objective of abolishing public education in favor of private and charter schools is advanced by this kind of trash. They just feel that tax dollars aren’t being well spent on educating kids if some politically connected millionaires aren’t getting their government handouts to run unaccountable schools that teach things like Jesus rode dinosaurs and the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.

    I agree the school board screwed up, but it wasn’t because of limiting public comment in an unreasonable way. Just like claims of massive voter fraud in ONLY four states which would have changed the outcome of the election, its a fantasy, it didn’t happen. What they screwed up was inviting public comment on a policy that was enacted 4 years ago when a simple press release would have sufficed.

    You guys do some good reporting, this article is partisan tripe and shockingly devoid of relevant fact, context, and any fidelity to the truth.

    3:16:20 they did call my name. Because I filled out a sign in sheet. I had to walk through the bigots who were there for an hour before I showed up, it was in front of the entrance to the School Board which is exactly where they were. https://youtu.be/3dMPd2ixr-w

    • AAfterwit says:

      Howie Feldersnatches,

      Thank you for the comment.

      We aren’t talking about the issue that was the topic of discussion. (The LGBTQ guidelines.)

      We are talking about the fact that the Chair restricted the speech of people in violation of the First Amendment.

      In fact, if you have bothered to read past your bias, you would have noticed that we addressed comments by two speakers – one for the LGBTQ guidelines and one against them – as being illegally restricted by the Brevard County School Board. We didn’t care as to who said what, only that the School Board illegally restricted their speech.

      You write:

      You guys do some good reporting, this article is partisan tripe and shockingly devoid of relevant fact, context, and any fidelity to the truth.

      The First Amendment is “partisan tripe?” Violations of the Constitution is “partisan tripe?”

      You spend the majority of your response attacking one side of the issue (an issue that we are not talking about) and then claim others are “partisan?” (Funny how you don’t see the partisanship in your own comments.) Furthermore, in case you missed it, the School Board members lean mostly to the right of the political spectrum. We are commenting on their behavior of the School Board. Perhaps in referencing the Constitution, case laws, etc., on speech, you missed the idea that we were talking about speech. We don’t see how you did that, but you did.

      The “relevant fact” is that the Constitution does matter. The Bill of Rights matter.

      If you can find one sentence – one statement – where we lied or misrepresented anything in what we wrote concerning the School Board abridging the rights of people, we’ll retract it and write an apology.

      We know you won’t do that because you cannot.

      You have had issues with people and the First Amendment in the past. These two comments (and we are going to leave them both up to show people how ridiculous, off topic and lacking in comprehension they are) show once again that you don’t understand or want to protect the rights of people. You don’t believe in the rights of people.

      We’ll say it again: the Brevard County School Board violated the rights of people and their policies on public comments violate the rights of people.

      It amazes us that you don’t seem to have an issue with that.

      By the way, if you are going to accuse us of writing a post that is “devoid of relevant fact, context, and any fidelity to the truth,” perhaps you should look in the mirror and check your own statements:

      3:16:20 they did call my name.

      You are Board Member Katye Campbell?

      We both know that you are not but it is not our policy to release the names of commenters if they choose to post using a pseudonym.

      Thanks again.

      A. Afterwit.

      PS – you wrote:

      led by former loser School Board Member Tina Descovitch,…..

      Are you sure you want to go down the path of discounting people because they lost an election?

  5. […] usually don’t do this, but the other day in response to our posts on the Brevard School Board and the First Amendment, we received such a mind numbingly, ridiculous comment, void of any […]

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