Mama Bears Claw Back into Schools’ Free Speech Fight
Like a lot of parents, Cindy Martin didn’t realize how out of control the book situation had gotten in their local schools. When a friend told her there was pornographic content on the shelves, she decided to investigate herself. What she found defied imagination. “I wish I could share some of the book excerpts with you,” she told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, “but that wouldn’t be possible on TV,” They are “so sexually explicit,” she emphasized. “And every time I find another one, it’s worse than the one before…”
Martin said the situation was so out of control that she decided to recruit other parents to join her. She put out a call on social media in 2021, asking if other Georgia moms would be willing to take a stand. “And I had so many moms come forward that we decided to form a group.” They called it Mama Bears. “It stuck. It sounded right.”
Their plan was simple: Go directly to Forsyth County school officials and ask, “Hey, did you know these are in here? We’d like them removed.” Almost immediately, the moms hit a wall. So they tried another tactic. “We asked for an audit, so that they could find these books. They refused.” Martin asked for a rating system so that parents would know what kind of material kids were being exposed to. They said no.” In a last-ditch effort, they asked for a special section in the library to house the adult themes. The district turned that down too.
“All of our commonsense solutions were rejected,” Martin explained on “Washington Watch.” “So we said, ‘Okay, if they really feel like these books are appropriate for children, then we’re just going to go to the school board meeting and expose them and force them — sort of embarrass them — [into getting] these books out.’ And that’s how it got started.”
A little over a year ago, eight of the mama bears stood up at a school board meeting and started reading directly from the books. “And we were silenced. They would not let us proceed. They gaveled us and they said that they were protecting children, which the room erupted in laughter over. Because they were not allowing us to read [to adults] from books that they are giving to our children …”
The next month, they tried again. At that point, Martin’s friend, Alison Hair, was formally banned from the meetings “until she apologized to the board and promised she would obey their rules — which meant she had to give up her First Amendment right to free speech. … And that’s how the lawsuit got started.”
Their story caught the attention of Moms for Liberty, who stepped in and connected Martin to the Institute for Free Speech. By November, a federal judge ruled that Forsyth County’s “public participation policy” was unconstitutional and ordered the district to lift its ban on Hair’s involvement at future meetings. But that wasn’t the end of the case. In February, the Mama Bears got more good news: the district had been ordered to pay the group’s attorney fees — $107,500 and the $17.91 in personal damages that Martin requested. “The payment of $17.91 symbolized the year when the First Amendment was ratified,” she explained to Fox News.
At the end of the day, Martin hopes that the case sent a message to school boards everywhere “that you cannot silence the parents you serve. You must listen to us. And what it also did was send a message across the nation to mama bears and papa bears to continue to stand up, continue to fight.”
That message has definitely been received, as parents flood local school board races with candidates who respect their voice and values. In fact, as iVoterGuide points out in a new report of 160 school district campaigns, the success of moms and dads in changing the make-up of their local boards has been overwhelming.
When all was said and done in 2022, conservative and conservative-leaning candidates outperformed the moderates and liberals handily. While not every district had conservatives on the ballot, iVoterGuide explains that the ones who did usually won. As Debbie Wuthnow, the organization’s president, explained to The Washington Stand:
“Our research exposed the truth about some sitting school board members and helped voters identify and vote into office more conservative trustees who are accountable to families and taxpayers. Sadly, 25% of the 160 races we covered in 2022 didn’t even have a conservative candidate, and 10% had multiple conservatives who split the vote. The good news is, conservatives won 69% of the remaining races! We need to be smart, encourage good candidates to run, and continue to equip voters who will take back our schools from those who are using our children to advance their own agenda.”
In the nine states where the group concentrated (Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Nevada, Texas, Virginia), parental involvement continues to be a defining factor in school board races.
Martin isn’t surprised. She’s seen the power of getting engaged up close. “… It was just an incredible experience as a mom to experience the First Amendment play out,” she explained. “We’ve incurred a lot of backlash from people who don’t agree with us. But guess what? We won for them as well. This was for everyone to have the freedom to speak whatever they want to their government officials.”
And that’s a good thing for everyone involved in this wave of classroom pushback. “Now we have this free speech foundation to go forward,” she told Perkins, “because we know it’s not going to stop at sexually explicit books. [They] have huge sexual agendas coming for our kids, and we are going to need the freedom of speech to protect them going forward.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.