SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

April 1, 2014

NHACLU challenges Timberlane gag order

(Continued)

But Bissonnette said the effort appears to be one to “suppress the public speech of board members who disagree with board decisions.”

The First Amendment guarantees that government cannot restrict expression of speech that doesn’t sit well, he pointed out.

School Board members are elected, not hired public employees, Bissonnette said in his letter.

“They should be (and are) able to speak their mind, especially through the media which enables political ideas to reach the largest number of constituents,” he wrote.

Bissonnette said yesterday the NHCLU has not decided if it would definitely take legal action against the School Board if the rules aren’t repealed. If they do go ahead, a lawsuit would be filed in either U.S. District Court or Rockingham Superior Court in Brentwood, he said.

“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

Another option would be to meet with the School Board to try to resolve the issue, he said.

Bissonnette said his organization occasionally challenges town board decisions, but the issues are often resolved before they go to court.

As an example, he cited a decision by the Rochester City Council last month to repeal a panhandling ordinance that the NHCLU contended violated the free speech rights of the poor.

As for Rule 7, requiring individual board members to support all decisions, even those they disagree with, Bissonnette said it, too, violates free speech rights.

“Again, dissent and critique are essential components of democratic government,” he wrote. “ ... Such free speech is essential to a free society.”

The rules were drafted by School Board member Rob Collins of Danville, the former chairman.

The School Board’s meeting Thursday begins at 7:30 p.m. in the superintendent’s office at 30 Greenough Road.

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