Residents in northwest Minnesota were required to declare their home address at a public school board meeting in order to speak in the meeting.
The result was accusations of discrimination against out-of-town residents, interference with the constitutional right to free speech and a growing citizen rebellion.
The Star Tribune, which detailed the situation, notes that the Board of Education in the town of Greenwald was discussing a new policy that will require all speakers in the forum to indicate their home address before their name is announced to the group. The residents responding to the board meeting called it “an attempted attempt to privatize the public meetings process,” the Star Tribune reports.
One of the residents who was not made aware that the rule was in place and was asked to identify her home address by the moderator spoke on the behalf of the several dozen others unable to attend the meeting and stated, “It infringes on the citizens’ right to free speech.”
Such a rule is at odds with the First Amendment and federal and state court rulings that allow the American Association of University Women’s Minnesota Chapter and other organizations to monitor the school board meetings and to stand up for the rights of those who are unable to attend.
Under Minnesota state law, the Board of Education has broad latitude to conduct its meetings.
This is not the first time the board has tried to control the meeting, and ACLU of Minnesota Director of Public Policy Carrie Evans told the Star Tribune that she knows of similar situations in Wisconsin, Texas and North Dakota.
“I am not surprised it came out of our state. I am not surprised it has a hue and cry,” Evans said. “What is surprising, unfortunately, is we did not have a seat at the table with these people to develop a draft of that policy.”
The new board policy goes into effect in September.