Law Student Files Lawsuit Alleging Vast Conspiracy To 'Suppress And Chill' Her First Amendment Rights
Angela Reading is a Villanova Law student, a New Jersey mom, a former school board member, and she recently filed a federal lawsuit against her Jersey town, the local police chief, school superintendent, and a slew of military officials for what she says is a "conspiracy" to "suppress and chill" her free speech rights.
As reported by Law & Crime, the incident at the heart of the lawsuit was Reading's daughter's "Math Night" in November 2022:
Reading attended "Math Night" at her daughter's elementary school in November 2022 in Northern Burlington County, New Jersey, when she observed posters with the words "polysexual," "pansexual," and "genderqueer" that had been created by students as part of the district's "Week of Respect," which highlighted various ethnic backgrounds, different languages, and LGBTQ identities.
Reading, who was a member of the local school board at the time, says that when her daughter asked what "polysexual" meant, she was "shocked" and "livid." Reading says she first contacted multiple school district officials, then took to Facebook to voice her concerns. Reading's post, [available here], said that it was "perverse and should be illegal" to expose children to "sexual content."
So yeah, she took to social media to sound off about a controversial subject, and whaddya know? She found controversy. Other parents, including named defendant, Christopher Schilling, created their own social media responses to Reading's post:
After Reading called the student-created poster "perverse," local parent and U.S. military official Lt. Col. Christopher Schilling posted from his own social media account, "The current situation involving Mrs Reading's actions has caused safety concerns for many families." Schilling also shared a link to a petition calling for Reading's resignation from the school board.
The complaint also identifies the school superintendent's letter about the incident as painting Reading in a false light:
Reading also points to a letter sent to parents by district Superintendent Helen Payne, which explained that the creation of the posters had been "voluntary and open-ended and has been offered to students for the past three years" with "no instruction associated with" the activity. In the letter, Payne referred to social media posts about the posters, and said these posts "caused safety and security concerns for many families."
Reading's complaint asserts that Facebook took down her post due to police pressure. Indeed, the complaint maintains there was a vast "conspiracy" between the local police, state agencies, the U.S. Armed Forces, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office of Counter-Terrorism, and the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center to "suppress and chill" her free speech rights. She also says her post led to her falsely being deemed a safety threat when "the only individuals who have faced any credible danger have been Mrs. Reading and her family."
Reading also says that the attention from the posts caused her to be "ostracized" and she suffered "extreme emotional distress and anxiety." In response to this, Reading says she had "little choice" but to respond to the unwanted attention by seeking a larger platform and "courageously [taking] to the airwaves of the Fox News network to expose the unjust actions of the Joint Base Actors against her, including unwarranted surveillance and censorship."
Reading is represented by the conservative Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm that litigates on behalf of a far-right agenda.
The lawsuit also complains that Reading was falsely portrayed as a "right wing extremist." Just a 'lil nugget of advice: if you don't want people to have the protected-by-the-First-Amendment opinion that you're right wing, perhaps don't use the THOMAS MORE SOCIETY as your legal counsel in the case where you complain about being called a right-wing extremist. It's just that you're giving folks additional fodder right in the complaint.
The complaint alleges violations of Reading's First Amendment rights, violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and deprivation of state and federal civil rights.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter @Kathryn1 or Mastodon