What To Do During a First Amendment Audit

As a superintendent, you know your day is going to be full of tasks, both little and big. So, the last thing you want to deal with is a stranger suddenly entering your workplace and recording everything they see. You have never seen this person, but they walk around confidently, examining every last inch of your workplace. Eventually, they will walk up to one of your staff members so they can interrupt their work with a barrage of needling questions. If this happens to you, try not to be alarmed! You’re just in the process of going through a First Amendment Audit.

Disclaimer: Before delving into what to do during a First Amendment audit, it’s important to note that the following suggestions are not legal advice. Always consult with legal professionals for specific guidance.

 What is a First Amendment audit?

The organization Freedom Forum states, “A First Amendment audit occurs when people film public officials or employees to hold them accountable or “test” their right to film in public spaces like town halls, libraries, police stations, parking lots, or state and local agencies.”

First Amendment audits were initially implemented to hold public servants accountable and ensure they were doing their jobs properly. Within the last couple of years, YouTubers have started doing First Amendment audits to test public servants to see if they can keep a cool head when the auditor antagonizes them. An audit is considered a pass if the audit is uneventful. But if the public servants try to stop the filming, kick them out of the office, or call the police, they “fail” the audit. An “auditor” is likely hoping for the public servant to fail the audit because doing so leads to a far more engaging YouTube video.

Are First Amendment Audits legal?

Ultimately, yes, they are.

The First Amendment protects the act of recording government officials in public spaces. Being able to do this is why we can film instances of police without the consequences of legal repercussions. But as a superintendent, this also makes it so that you cannot do much about a First Amendment auditor recording at your district offices. Even if the auditor is annoying or distracting, being in that public space is not “unreasonably disruptive.” If an auditor becomes belligerent, argumentative, or tries preventing the employee from completing their work for an extended period, then those instances when the authorities can be contacted.

What to do during the First Amendment Audit

1. Educate your Staff about Audits

As a superintendent, you are responsible for educating your staff on how these audits operate. Auditors are banking on the fact that people won’t respond well to being recorded, which isn’t uncommon if people don’t know why something like this is happening. So, informing your staff that something like this can happen to them will make the likelihood of a bad reaction far less likely.

2. Stay Calm

While it’s annoying to indulge the people auditing you, you ultimately want to pass their test. And the best way to do so is to remain calm during the interaction. With nothing interesting happening, the auditor will have little incentive to stay. 

3. Avoid Confrontation

Don’t engage in an argument, and certainly don’t touch them. Auditors are known for being litigious, so if they have a reason to sue, they will take it. Don’t give them anything they can use against you.

4. Identify the Nonpublic Area in your Workplace

If you identify the private areas in your workspace from the beginning, you would have a reasonable reason to ask them to leave if they attempt to enter those places. If they refuse, the authorities are more likely to help in that situation.

5. Safety is Most Important

If you feel unsafe, or if you feel like your staff is being threatened, don’t hesitate to call the authorities. While it’s uncommon for auditors to overstep their legal bounds, it’s not impossible. If you are under the impression that an auditor’s line of questions is becoming overly aggressive or, if they ever touch you, then that is vastly overstepping their bounds.

Superintendents need to navigate First Amendment Audits with a balanced approach that prioritizes understanding, composure, and adherence to legal boundaries. You and your staff can effectively manage these situations without unnecessary conflict by being informed and prepared.