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Riley’s Farm Files First Amendment Lawsuit Against Claremont Unified School District
Riley’s Farm, the well-known Oak Glen site for historically accurate and immensely popular school field trips, is challenging a decision by the Claremont Unified School District (CUSD) disallowing school district outings to the site. CUSD has taken offense to social media comments made by James Patrick Riley, part owner of Riley’s Farm, on his personal social media account, on his own time and did not reference the school district or school field trips.
Blacklisting Riley’s Farm is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment rights according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Thomas Eastmond, attorney, with the Irvine-based law firm of Goe & Forsythe LLP. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court (Central District of California) on Oct. 12.
“It is well settled that public agencies may not abuse their power as employer or purchaser of services to stifle the First Amendment rights of citizens to comment on matters of public concern,” said Eastmond. “The exceptions to that rule involve truly egregious situations, where an employee’s expressive conduct seriously disrupts an agency’s legitimate functions – like a police officer making a pornographic video in (and then out of) uniform. The closer speech falls to the ‘core’ of what the First Amendment protects – commentary on political, social or cultural issues, like Mr. Riley’s social media comments – the tougher it is for government to justify suppressing it.”
The lawsuit notes that the remarks to which CUSD claimed to take offense (i.e., “I Just realized we may have been the last generation born with only two genders”) were made on only Riley’s personal social media accounts not on any of Riley’s Farm’s accounts.
Riley’s Farm has hosted school field trips for decades. They provide immersive presentations on historically important United States topics including the Stamp Act and the corrupt British admiralty courts which culminate with a “skirmish” with the “Redcoats.” The field trips also offer colonial crafts and games and the field trips are structured based on the ages of the students. Regardless of the students’ ages, the field trips are studiously apolitical and historically rigorous.
“Speech does not lose First Amendment protection just because it has sharp elbows,” said Attorney Eastmond. “When public agencies take it upon themselves to enforce ideological conformity on their contractors and employees, they exceed their authority, and under the Constitution, they’re held to account.”