This story was originally published by the WND News Center.
A judge has ordered two teachers who challenged a Missouri school district's indoctrination program on First Amendment grounds to pay more than $300,000 for the school's lawyers after disregarding their free speech concerns.
A report from Just the News notes the decision, now under appeal, came in a case contesting the constitutionality of compelled antiracism training in Springfield.
The teachers' lawyers called the ruling from Douglas Harpool, the judge in the case, "overtly hostile" and described it as being intended "to scare off future lawsuits by parents and teachers."
The case is being handled for the teachers, Brooke Henderson and Jennifer Lumley, by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which already has Harpool on appeal with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
SLF litigation chief Braden Boucek said it's the first time his organization ever has faced "attorney fees sanctions" in disputes over "unconstitutional government action."
The teachers brought their First Amendment compelled- and chilled-speech action in 2021, explaining how the school's "equity training" forced employees to discuss their place on an "oppression matrix" and cheer for "changes in political, economic, and social life," the report said.
Further, they were ordered to reveal personal details they preferred to keep private.
Harpool claimed in a summary judgment in favor of the school that there was no "injury" in the case.
Then he demanded the teachers pay nearly $313,000 to the school for contesting its mandatory indoctrination program.
Harpool admitted the teachers were forced to undergo "training" but claimed they were free to disagree.
SLF explained in a court filing how wrong the judge was.
"At least" four staff members said they self-censored because speaking up would put "a target on their back" resulting in a "hostile work environment," the report documented.
Further, the chief equity and diversity officer explicitly said staff must "start the work of becoming antiracist educators" in order to "support these students," the SLF said.
It explained that the facts of the case were that the teachers were ordered to speak up during training, or "they would be called upon." Further, when they did speak "and express disagreement … they were corrected."
That led to inevitable self-censorship.
SLF officials said unless the ruling is reversed, "teachers and parents will have no check against unlimited government power to violate free speech and equal protection rights — and they will be punished if they attempt to do so through our courts."