Trial Update on Tennessee Principal Placed on Leave for Warning Students About Social Media Censorship


A lawsuit filed by a Shelby County Schools (SCS) principal placed on leave for warning students about social media censorship is making steady progress. As The Tennessee Star reported in January, Cordova High School Principal Barton Thorne had lectured students during a weekly “principal’s message” on the importance of free speech and the marketplace of ideas following the Capitol Hill riot, which he condemned.

Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) reinstated Thorne the day that he filed the lawsuit against them. The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) is representing Thorne in the case, Thorne v. Shelby County Board of Education. In the lawsuit, Thorne alleged that SCBE violated his right to free speech and had damaged his career, reputation, and family through their response to the public and media.

On April 9, a little over a month after the lawsuit was filed, SCBE filed a motion to dismiss Thorne’s lawsuit. They argued that Thorne failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Further, SCBE responded that Thorne lacked rights to free speech while exercising his official duties, citing the 2005 Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos.

“[W]hen employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline,” read the SCOTUS opinion.

SCBE counsel also argued that Thorne’s administrative leave was in response to multiple complaints from “employees, parents, and/or students.” They cited a pending investigation that they claimed was ongoing while Thorne was placed on leave. Contents of that investigation aren’t included within the court documents.

The Star inquired with LJC whether the contents or results of the investigation were shown to Thorne upon his reinstatement. Daniel Suhr, LJC managing attorney and lead counsel on the case, told The Star that the only thing that Thorne ever received was the single page letter permitting his reinstatement with a warning.

“The fact that the ‘investigation’ ended the day this lawsuit was filed tells you everything you need to know,” stated Suhr.

In a response to SCBE’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on May 14, the LJC said that Thorne’s message was rooted in basic American principles and aligned with Tennessee’s current social studies standards for high schools. They added that SCBE had caused suffering, citing how district officials admonished Thorne to the public and media, and issued a negatively worded warning letter in his personnel file.

On May 28, SCBE counsel said in a response that Thorne was only pursuing legal action because he’d been placed on leave for too long, and again referenced their internal investigation.

“He is unhappy because the time he spent on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation by his employer was longer than what he expected,” read the response.

SCBE reiterated that First Amendment protections don’t apply to Thorne.

Suhr told The Star that freedom of speech protection does apply to Thorne in this case. He cited the 1969 SCOTUS decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School.

“The irony of this case all along has been that Principal Thorne’s free speech rights were violated for a talk he gave about the importance of free speech! The First Amendment protects all of us, including public school employees. As the Supreme Court said in the famous Tinker case, ‘It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,'” said Suhr. “We often focus on student free speech rights, but forget the ‘or teachers’ part. Here, the main problem is that the District suspended and investigated Principal Thorne for speech that was clearly in line with Tennessee social studies standards, mainstream civics curricula, and even resources recommended by SCS’s Superintendent.”

Read Thorne’s full homeroom message here:

– – –

Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Barton Thorne” by Cordova High School.





Related posts

10 Thoughts to “Trial Update on Tennessee Principal Placed on Leave for Warning Students About Social Media Censorship”

  1. JB Taylor

    Sounds like the school board needs replaced. Immediately.

  2. pigpen51

    It is certainly within the private media’s rights to allow or to not allow anyone to post on their
    own platforms that they provide to the public. The problem comes when they count on the federal government for protections via laws protecting them from other start ups, or from what they would consider frivolous lawsuits, when the federal government is also working behind the scenes with them to censor private citizens on said platforms.
    By doing that type of thing, they have taken it from a private soapbox and made it into a pseudo private/public one, with the fed. gov. also working to censor the public, which is clearly unconstitutional.
    And of course while it is against the law to shout fire in a crowded theater, prior restraint is also unconstitutional. Plus, while that is the example always given, the government or those who don’t like the message put forth will stretch that example and attempt to make it cover things that the founders never intended nor did the SCOTUS rulings never intended either.
    To put it in a short sentence, free speech is free speech, except for very limited exceptions, which should be considered on a very tight interpretation, to give free speech the most latitude possible.

  3. EdC

    America is waking to the reality it is not divided. It is under attack.

  4. kanta

    I have recently been told that although Tennessee has a ban on Critical Race Theory our Dept. of Education has issued waivers to 30 or 33 counties (not sure which is correct) for them to be able to use Wit and Wisdom textbooks that DO teach CRT. WHAT???? I then discovered through an article about the Moms for Liberty Franklin TN chapter that these books have common themes of cannibalism, white people being inherently racist and otherwise bad, suicide ideation, extreme emotion, graphic death, and anti-American sentiments throughout the children’s books. THESE are the books our TN counties are getting waivers for???
    It’s past time we all better wake up. Something is afoot here and it isn’t anything good for us or our children. Sounds like this ‘Shelby Board of Education has also been infiltrated with the Woke indoctrination becoming evident across the U.S. Thank God there are people of moral courage like Barton Thorne. Because of what happened to this honorable man more and more of us are WAKING UP to what is happening to American Education and are being motivated to put a stop to it!

  5. Mopogo

    The best thing that you all can do is get the hell out of Shelby County.

    1. EdC

      No. No more retreating. Push back and, keep pushing.

  6. Ron

    Well done. TN must stand and fight these ‘Woke’ Leftists at every turn and WIN. We must have a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for this crap.

  7. Deborah Lawson

    When are the parents of Shelby County going to stand together and recall these SCBE communist ?

  8. EdC

    The push back is growing at a geometric rate. America’s patience for “wokenness” is over.

  9. Jean

    Thank God for men like this principal, who stood on the Principles of the Constitution.
    Communist have infiltrated our nation in every area of Government including the DOE. True freedom loving American’s have got to stand up and fight back against this tyranny, which is being indoctrinated into our children through the public school system.