What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been..
Our First Amendment battleship proceeds, these days, through choppy, gray water — polluted with big ugly chunks of legal maneuvering, stalling, and outright trickery.
Here’s an example: we asked one school district to provide internal emails and correspondence that might shed light on why, after two decades of visiting us, they stopped attending our living history field trips. We know why, of course. They told us when they cancelled: “Jim Riley believes in the Second Amendment and equal rights for all Americans regardless of their skin color.” (Not really. They just called me racist for ridiculing a racist like Louis Farrakhan and sexist for mocking a hypocrite like Stormy Daniels.)
So when we asked public servants to explain, in public, their reasoning, to provide copies of their emails, what did they send us? A vendor list. That’s it. They just sent us a list of all their suppliers. That would be something like a policeman asking for your license and registration and you responding by handing him your family scrap-book. It’s not only non-responsive. It’s obscenely non-responsive. Imagine the IRS asking for your receipts and you sending them an L.L. Bean catalogue. Only public servants, and their attorneys, could be this arrogant.
And this sort of dishonesty costs money. “Will Riley have the money to file a motion to compel? Let’s see.” It’s a sickening side of lawyering that everyone in the legal profession has apparently come to expect.
The Irony Here?
Did you know that Claremont and all the other districts we are suing now claim all of their teachers are welcome to take students to Riley’s Farm? Catch that? “We have no problem with Riley’s Farm. Anyone can go. We are not blacklisting Riley’s Farm.”
Why the sudden shift in the tide? Well, after waxing very pious about punishing Jim Riley for “racist, sexist, homophobic” political expression, their lawyers told them, behind closed doors, “uh, well, you can’t do that.”
I may have to repeat myself, on this score, for several decades before it sinks in. Almost all competent* lawyers know this: public agencies cannot engage in First Amendment retaliation. A private individual can boycott anyone they like, but the government can’t terminate employment, or cancel a vendor relationship, simply because they dislike a citizen’s political expression.
Think about what our America would look like if this were not the case. Anytime a Republican majority took over Congress, we could fire all civil servants who publicly supported Democrats. Any time your city council achieved a Democrat majority, every Republican city employee could be terminated. If the government could penalize any speech it didn’t like, there would be no First Amendment.
One very positive aspect of our five year battle is just this: civil servants are beginning to “get it.” The social justice weirdo-warriors who want to conduct cancel-culture purges are being told, in hushed tones, “we can’t do that. We could face expensive litigation.”
The Fear Factor
We did receive a series of interesting email exchanges from one district located in a decidedly left-of-center part of Los Angeles. At the outset, it’s important to understand that progressive orthodoxy is something like a fundamentalist cult. I have reason to believe quite a few public school teachers, even in districts like the one I’m about to describe, want out of the cult. They don’t like enduring endless sensitivity training and pro forma displays of devotion to every approved cause–from fossil-fuel church discipline to white “privilege” confession. Within the bowels of these organizations, progressive church ladies keep the conversation very focused and narrow; they are the kind of people who develop facial tics if someone mentions something like “parental rights,” or “school choice.”
Along comes an institutionally unfettered Jim Riley, brash enough to call Farrakhan a racist and David Hogg a dimwit. These are ideas shared by millions of people and likely the vast majority of Americans, but within the faculty lounge they feel something like a mustard gas explosion. Of course, some of the teachers in that lounge share those opinions too, but they want to keep their jobs, so they stay silent or feign outrage.
Here’s what I found fascinating about this district: the teachers expressed enormous affection for our field trips themselves. Children, parents, and teachers loved the experience. One mother thought my Tweets were “low brow,” but she also worried about cancelling anyone and anything for violating the current political orthodoxy. Virtually all of the email correspondents agreed with our contention: my political views are not even mentioned, much less showcased, in the field trips themselves. These correspondents indicated they would miss our service to the children, and they had to admit they were canceling the trips to punish me and placate the politically offended within their ranks.
The truly chilling perspective on all of this was offered up by one teacher who wrote..
“..[we] deeply regret that our GATE students had to miss out on what we consider to be a valuable educational opportunity.”
“Hopefully, in the future, Mr. Riley will bear in mind that he runs what is, in part, an educational venue and will use a little more discretion in the manner in which he expresses his personal opinions..”
Ponder that one. Here’s a nice fellow who loves our educational product, but he believes educational venues must be owned by people who have all the approved opinions, and if they happen to express the wrong opinion they do it in very hushed, civil tones–or not at all.
I have to call that what it is — the banality of evil, urged on by the fear factor of social approval. Keep your head down, son! You can participate in society, you can earn a living, you can teach children, IF you agree to never violate the sensibilities of progressive cult members.
“It is so sad,” the timid bleat. “We like what you do, but you should have known some ideas can’t be ridiculed. We need to make everyone feel safe, except for the people who really want a real conversation.”
The fiction here is that if you’re a kind old grandfather, like the gent who owns Chick-fil-A, you can express the wrong ideas with the proper “discretion.” If you are polite enough, you might be able to advocate, say, traditional marriage.
How did that one work out? It doesn’t matter if you’re a mild-mannered Dan T. Cathy or a rude “low-brow” like Jim Riley. Political institutions want to control the conversation. They will use cancel culture or “disinformation” or de-platforming to do it.
The left, on the other hand, is allowed to ridicule climate change skeptics as “deniers,” as though they should be dropped in the same bucket with Holocaust deniers. Hillary Clinton is allowed to opine that Trump supporters require psychological deprogramming. Nancy Pelosi once joked that Republicans don’t bathe. Do you think a single parent would be able to derail a 20 year field trip program for objecting to an owner who endorsed all of that nonsense?
Of course not. There is approved nonsense and distinctly un-approved nonsense. Hopefully you will learn to express your nonsense with a little more discretion.
If you are sick of this, help us fight.
* The governing reality here is “competent.” A LOT of lawyers aren’t up to speed on First Amendment case law. Claremont’s general counsel was completely clueless on the concept of First Amendment Retaliation, and gave their client precisely the wrong advice.
This post was written by Jim Riley