Constitutional Law

Lawyer arrested at school board meeting after complaining about novel on daughter's reading list


Image from Simon & Schuster.

A New Hampshire attorney was arrested for disorderly conduct Monday after he complained longer than his allotted two minutes at a school board meeting about a novel on his 14-year-old daughter’s honors English class reading list.

William Baer was arrested and handcuffed at the Monday meeting of the Gilford School Board, then charged with disorderly conduct, WMUR reports.

“I spoke very briefly, and I was cut off because the clock ran out,” he told the station in a video report linked to the article. “It was … sit down and shut up, basically, and that’s not how you interact with adults.”

His objection concerned a graphic teen sex scene on page 313 of Jodi Picoult’s book Nineteen Minutes, as an earlier Laconia Daily Sun article explains.

“It was extremely frustrating that I couldn’t make any points with anybody,” Baer told WMUR, explaining why he had exceeded his two minutes.

“He spoke out of order,” said Lt. James Leach of the Gilford police. “Someone else was given the floor and was speaking. He interrupted them and continued after being asked to stop. He was then asked to leave and refused to leave unless he was arrested, so he was arrested.”

Baer says he intends to fight the criminal case as a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

In years past, the school district has notified parents about the book and given them a chance to object, but it didn’t do so this year. In a written statement circulated after Monday’s meeting, the board apologized for “the discomfort of those impacted and for the failure of the school district to send home prior notice of assignment of the novel,” saying that the district “will take immediate action to revise these policies.”

“It’s kind of ironic that they’re doing exactly what I suggested, yet I get arrested for suggesting it in public, because I violated the two-minute rule,” Baer told WMUR.

The Daily Mail, the Guardian and the New York Daily News also have stories.

Updated May 12 to revise headline.

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