Critic of masks alleges ‘righteous governmental altar’ in lawsuit against Lawrence schools

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Spiehs raises constitutional issues after banned from district property

TOPEKA — A critic of now-rescinded COVID-19 mask mandates filed a federal lawsuit against the Lawrence public school district superintendent and school board members to challenge constitutionality of his banishment from district property and a prohibition against his in-person commentary at district board meetings.

Stilwell attorney Linus Baker raised First and 14th amendment arguments in a filing in U.S. District Court on behalf of Justin Spiehs, an unsuccessful candidate for Douglas County Commission. Baker asserted in the court document Spiehs’ speech rights were violated because Lawrence school district officials opposed his political views. The attorney said Spiehs’ right to equal protection under the Constitution was violated because other people with similar views weren’t comparably punished by district officials.

“Those restrictions are not reasonable,” Baker said. “If the government opens a forum for discussion, it cannot undermine that discussion by excluding otherwise relevant speech.”

Spiehs, who resides in Johnson County, filed a separate lawsuit alleging freedom of speech infractions against the Lawrence City Commission in November.

In both cases, Spiehs urged the federal court to award him unspecified damages as well as issue orders providing him the right to speak freely at school or city meetings in Lawrence.

Spiehs began to draw attention to himself in Lawrence and Topeka while objecting to public health orders associated with emergence of the pandemic and rapidly escalating infections and fatalities. The death of 10,200 Kansans has been linked to COVID-19.

Spiehs regularly picketed Lawrence school district headquarters. In 2021, he was banned from the district’s property. He delivered obscenity-laced testimony about the pandemic during a meeting of the Kansas Legislature at the Capitol. He was arrested in Lawrence on suspicion of aggravated assault for allegedly threatening people with a sign post during a vaccine clinic for children. He was convicted of two misdemeanors and placed on probation for one year.

He was forbidden from offering in-person public comment at Lawrence school board meetings, but allowed to address the board in writing or through a video or telephone conferencing system. In 2022, he was denied access to the Webex communication system for 90 days after violating school board rules.

Baker described his client as a community activist willing to speak about matters “government does not like to hear in ways that might be considered shocking, rudely truthful, earthy or even crass.”

In terms of the school district lawsuit, Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis wasn’t available to comment Wednesday. The lawsuit says Lewis affirmed in a Dec. 6 email that Spiehs remained banned from Lawrence school district property.

Lewis indicated the exclusion was tied to issuance by Lawrence police of a “no trespass” directive against Spiehs in October 2021. Spiehs came to attention of police by declining to wear a mask at a Lawrence High School event. His lawyer said masks exacerbated Spiehs’ medical condition. Spiehs has a doctorate in human development and a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy.

“A remnant of the masking psychosis from the COVID-19 paranoia is on full display in this lawsuit,” Baker said. “As a result of Dr. Spiehs’ protests and that one-time occurrence, the defendant Lewis has diagnosed Dr. Spiehs with a critical-analysis leprosy — one that must be forever quarantined.”


Baker said Lewis decided “from his righteous governmental altar, and with the full approval of the government board members, that Dr. Spiehs shalt not step foot on USD 497 property ever again.” The decision should be viewed as a retaliatory campaign to deter Spiehs from making comments in public considered negative or embarrassing to school district staff or students, he said.

Baker claimed there was no school board policy in 2021 or 2022 limiting the scope of a person’s remarks at school board meetings.

“The government defendants cannot prohibit future expressive activity by Dr. Spiehs as a result of some purported past unlawful conduct,” Baker said. “This is raw retaliatory censorship.”

In the lawsuit against the Lawrence City Commission, Baker said Spiehs was repeatedly removed from the commission’s public comment sessions based on determinations by the mayor that his statements weren’t germane to city business. In one exchange, Spiehs called the mayor a nazi.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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