Nashville school board members Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Fran Bush are suing for the right to speak out about former Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. They’ve filed a formal complaint alleging a clause in his separation agreement violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Here’s more from the complaint filed today.
This case arises out of a 5-3 vote by the Metropolitan Nashville Board of
Public Education to censor—under penalty of personal liability—the Plaintiffs’ truthful criticism of Defendant Shawn Joseph, Nashville’s former Director of Schools. The censorship at issue was effected through a content-based “disparaging or defamatory comments” clause in ex-Director Joseph’s severance agreement. Among other defects, the clause contravenes the First Amendment and deprives the Plaintiffs’ constituents of their right to hear and receive information from their elected representatives. The
Plaintiffs thus seek a declaratory judgment that the offending clause is unconstitutional and an order permanently enjoining its enforcement.
The Severance Agreement became effective on April 17, 2019. The
Severance Agreement also included mutual, content-based “disparaging or defamatory comments” clauses that purported to censor and prevent: (1) Joseph, (2) the School Board, and (3) the School Board’s individual members, including the Plaintiffs—all public officials with roles that carry significant public interest—from disparaging one another or making truthful statements about one another that would “tend to harm a person’s
reputation by subjecting the person to public contempt, disgrace or ridicule, or by adversely affecting the person’s business.”
The School Board Censorship Clause forbids the Plaintiffs—three duly
elected officials who have a duty and obligation to their constituents—from speaking candidly and honestly with their constituents and with other elected officials, including one another, about matters essential to their offices and their official duties.
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