Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice rejects the idea that her organization has stoked division or cultivated a mistrust of teachers and schools.
An Education Week reporter spoke with Justice during the Florida-based group’s annual Joyful Warriors Summit in a brief interview here on Friday.
Moms for Liberty has risen to national prominence over the last few years as local chapters have contested schools’ COVID-19 precautions, advocated for schools to remove books—often those featuring LGBTQ+ characters, people of color, and others from marginalized groups—from their libraries, and flipped school boards to conservative control. Its influence has grown in Republican circles, in particular.
The summit, spanning three days, brought together around 650 Moms for Liberty members from across the country to hear from presidential candidates—including former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former U.N. Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley—as well as four conservative state education chiefs and activists who hosted member training sessions.
“Parents absolutely should be concerned about the fact that they can’t trust their schools,” Justice said.
The event was engulfed in controversy and attracted protests as Moms for Liberty has recently drawn high-profile criticism.
The group provoked widespread backlash recently after an Indiana chapter used an Adolf Hitler quote in a newsletter.
In the week leading up to the summit’s start, a group of historians and researchers criticized the Museum of the American Revolution for hosting a private event connected to the summit. The American Historical Association said the group’s members have “vigorously advocated for censorship and harassment of history teachers, banning history books from libraries and classrooms, and legislation that renders it impossible for historians to teach with professional integrity without risking job loss and other penalties.”
And the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks antigovernment and extremist groups nationwide, recently added Moms for Liberty and its hundreds of local chapters to its list of extremist, antigovernment groups.
The controversies, however, appear to have buoyed Justice and the rest of the organization. One Republican presidential candidate, former biotech CEO Vivek Ramaswamy said he was “privileged to join my favorite hate group and extremist group” when he appeared with Justice at a New Hampshire campaign event that followed the Southern Poverty Law Center’s announcement. Ramaswamy is also appearing at the Philadelphia summit.
And Moms for Liberty plans to continue advocating for the election of conservative school board candidates and politicians. In 2022, around half of the 270 Moms for Liberty-endorsed school board candidates won their campaigns, flipping school boards in a handful of districts, including Charleston, S.C., Berkeley County, S.C., Cape May County, N.J., New Hanover County, N.C., and York County, S.C.
The group also has a large presence in Florida, where it originated, with Moms for Liberty-endorsed board members holding majorities on school boards in Brevard, Clay, Duval, Miami-Dade, and Sarasota counties.
Going into the 2024 election season, the group has set up a federal super PAC, raising money to fund campaigns in local, state, and federal elections across the country.
The following interview with Justice has been edited for length and clarity.
What does Moms for Liberty hope attendees gain from this summit that they’ll take back to their local communities and school boards?
The breakout sessions are amazing. They’re learning so much about different issues that are happening.
Comprehensive sex education, for example, it’s shocking. If people haven’t ever [gone] and read about comprehensive sex education, they really need to. We need to be more honest about things that are actually being taught in American public school classrooms, and every time I talk to someone and I tell them what the tenets of comprehensive sex ed are, they’re shocked.
We titled the name of the session, “Comprehensive Sex Ed: Education or Sexualization?” and it really does feel like the sexualization of our kids.
(Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a sex education curriculum that aims to give “young people accurate, age-appropriate information about sexuality and their sexual and reproductive health,” according to the World Health Organization. Technical guidance for the curriculum was developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization alongside UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, UN Women, UNAIDS, and WHO.)
How does the work Moms for Liberty has advocated for at the state and local levels help improve student achievement?
Because no one’s going to fight for a child like a parent. Love is an expertise. You as a mom know your kids better than anyone else. So parents being more involved in their education is a win-win for the parents, for the kids, and the school.
Could you respond to criticisms that say Moms for Liberty has stoked division in local communities and also contributed to mistrust of schools and teachers?
I think that that’s kind of the iron law of woke projection, to be honest with you. Parents absolutely should be concerned about the fact that they can’t trust their schools.
Right now in America, there are numerous lawsuits that are happening where children have been taken into private spaces with adults and have gone through pages of forms to talk about: what name they want to use at school and what name, when the teacher calls the parent, they’ll use with that parent; what bathroom that child will use; what sex the child will sleep with when they go on overnight field trips—all of this behind the backs of parents.
When January Littlejohn of Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida, went to the school when she found out about it, she wanted to see the forms and they said, “Well, we’re going to need your 12-year-old’s permission.” So this idea that somehow we’ve stoked distrust or chaos or whatever it is that people say, again, it’s projection. We’re calling them out for this nonsense that’s happening in American schools and they don’t like it. Tough.
(The Littlejohn case Justice referred to involved a mother who filed a lawsuit against Leon County schools alleging that the district developed a bathroom plan for her daughter without her knowledge. A judge later dismissed the case, according to Tallahassee Reports.)
How should teachers walk the line between telling parents if their kid is struggling with gender identity or asking questions about that and also supporting the kid who maybe doesn’t feel comfortable with their parents knowing?
As far as a kid not being comfortable with a parent knowing, there are lots of things that kids might or might not do, right? I mean, for example, I always told my daughter that if she got pregnant in high school—which is always baseline, right?—that she would have the baby, that life would be changing, but that she would be held responsible for that.
Now, would she be concerned or upset to tell me? Yeah. She knows I would be upset. I want her to have a bright future, not have a baby in high school. That’s a really hard thing to do as a teen, right? So should the school keep that from me?
If she said, ‘Oh my gosh, my mom’s going to kill me when she finds out I’m pregnant,’ should the school keep that from me? No. Absolutely not.
So this idea that schools are saying home might not be safe—unacceptable. Do not tell my child that home is not safe. My child does not need a sexual spirit guide at school.
An Indiana Moms for Liberty chapter [recently] quoted Hitler in a newsletter and later apologized for it. Is support for Hitler something that is common among Moms for Liberty members?
Never in a million years would that mom have ever thought that anyone would think that she’s supporting Hitler.
One of the things that we wear on our T-shirts is that we do not co-parent with the government. The idea that they would support the government indoctrinating children is ridiculous, and we reject it completely.
Coverage of strategies for advancing the opportunities for students most in need, including those from low-income families and communities, is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at www.waltonk12.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2023 edition of Education Week as ‘Parents Can’t Trust Their Schools,’ Moms for Liberty Co-Founder Tiffany Justice Says