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Judge dismisses lawsuit over DOJ memo on school board threats

(CNN) A federal judge threw out a lawsuit on Friday from parents that accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of stifling their free speech, saying the group misunderstood a memo addressing increased harassment against schools.

In 2021, Garland released a memo addressing the "disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence" levied at schools. The memo sparked months of backlash and false claims that the attorney general believed parents who were concerned about education policy were "domestic terrorists."

In an attempt to stop the Justice Department from enforcing the memo, a group of parents from Virginia and Washington sued Garland, claiming the memo tried to silence parents who were lawfully protesting the "harmful, immoral, and racist policies of the 'progressive' Left" at their local schools.

Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, ruled that the memo did little more than announce a "series of measures" that directed federal authorities to address increasing threats targeting school board members, teachers and other school employees.

"The alleged AG Policy is not regulatory, proscriptive, or compulsory in nature because it does not impose any regulations, requirements, or enforcement actions on individuals," Friedrich wrote. "None of the documents that the plaintiffs allege establish the policy create an imminent threat of future legal actions against anyone, much less the plaintiffs."

Friedrich noted the memo only addressed threats of violence, and explicitly stated that parents have the right to "spirited debate about policy matters." The memo also "does not label anyone a domestic terrorist," Friedrich said.

The ruling is the latest development in an unrelenting campaign, supported by some right-wing media and Republican politicians, complaining the Justice Department wanted to punish parents for attending or protesting at school board meetings.

The House Judiciary Committee's Republicans asked Garland last October to withdraw the memo, and pushed him to explain the memo during public hearings.

"I do not believe that parents who testify, speak, argue with, complain about school boards and schools should be classified as domestic terrorists or any kind of criminalism," Garland testified at the time, saying that "true threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment," and that "those are the things we're worried about here. Those are the only things we're worried about here."

CNN has reached out to the Justice Department and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit for comment.