Equality is a hallmark of our society. Our Constitution provides for true equality for all American citizens, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and financial or health status. However, equal opportunity does not guarantee equal...
Equality is a hallmark of our society. Our Constitution provides for true equality for all American citizens, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and financial or health status. However, equal opportunity does not guarantee equal outcomes, and we help people the most when we provide opportunities for all to thrive, not just a select few. Many current government policies are not based on equal treatment under the law, and freedom fighting lawyers are valiantly working to rescue and defend the true concept and application of equality. Linda’s guest, Daniel Lennington, is a lawyer with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview in which they discuss several cases involving racial discrimination, public school curriculum transparency, parent’s rights, and employer health mandates. Listen to learn how each case may affect you and get tips on how to protect your rights under the law.
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Welcome. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen, your host, and the author of Prosperity 101: Job Security Through Business Prosperity, The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck. And the creator of The Breakroom Economics online course. The book, the course and the entire podcast library can be found on Prosperity101.com. I seek to connect boardroom to breakroom, and policy to paycheck by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. My goal is to help people understand the foundations of prosperity, the policies of prosperity, and how to protect their prosperity by becoming informed, involved, and impactful. I believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement and retention, and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society.
Listen each week to hear from exciting guests, and be sure to visit Prosperity101.com. Thank you for listening today. As our nation continues to swirl in a sea of cultural upheaval, there are people who work to bring forth the steady truths of our Constitution and to defend the rights our Constitution protects. As lockdowns and mandates have impacted businesses and individuals across the country, many people are standing up to say, "Enough is enough." I've highlighted several in previous podcasts, and will continue to do so. Many lawsuits have been filed in efforts to preserve rights. And we can be thankful for freedom-loving lawyers who are helping people to obtain justice. My guest today is one of those lawyers. Daniel Lennington serves as Deputy Council for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, and focuses on the Equality Under the Law project. Dan previously served as the Assistant Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Solicitor General at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, where he argued constitutional law cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Seventh Circuit and state and federal trial courts around the state.
Before joining the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Dan was an award-winning federal prosecutor in Oklahoma. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College and Valparaiso University School of Law. Welcome, Daniel. Thank you for making time for this interview.
Thank you, Linda. Nice to be with you.
Well, it's just great. And I personally appreciate the work of Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which during this broadcast we will sometimes refer to as WILL. So for the listeners, if we refer to it as WILL, we are referring to Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. And the organization has just done incredible work to protect the freedoms of so many people, not only across Wisconsin, but really across the country. So with your work on the Equality Under the Law project, could you explain some of your responsibilities there and what the project entails?
Right. So when we started this earlier this year, it was in response to what I'd say, sort of a nationwide awakening about race in our country that happened after the George Floyd death in the summer of 2020. What I viewed as an overreaction by some in government and public policy to add race as a requirement to get government benefits. Or that race was being inserted into every area of curriculum in K through 12 schools, that people were being discriminated against because they were white or they didn't hold the right beliefs. That, I feel was an overreaction to some of the very real racial problems we have in this country, and problems that do require us to address them in very carefully and thoughtful way. But there has definitely been an overreaction, and it has caused a lot of harm and discrimination to people who are otherwise innocent in what is the real problems and the root causes of racial disparities and racial discrimination in America.
And one of those people that is definitely innocent as innocent victim in this woke new agenda for America is Adam Faust, who is a farmer that is our client from Chilton, Wisconsin. And he's a dairy farmer. He's disabled. He was born with spina bifida. And he lost both of his feet in a agricultural accident. And like many farmers, he faced a significant economic disruption because of COVID. Milk prices dropped dramatically. Many dairy farmers had resorted to dumping their milk, to reduce the supply. And he applied to the US government for loans, and he had had several, a hundred thousand dollars or so of loans that he took out in order to buy his business from his parents. Which is what most dairy farmers do. They're not actually given their farm. They have to buy it from someone. So he bought his farm.
And in the 2021, one of President Biden's first acts was to pass the American Rescue Plan. And included in that was something called Farmer Loan Forgiveness. Was the idea that $4 billion was set aside to forgive loans to farmers like Adam Faust, who had outstanding loans. But one of the provisions in the bill was that if you were a white farmer, you could not get loan forgiveness. You were categorically barred from getting loan forgiveness. So we represented Adam, and I also represented farmers from 11 other states and South Dakota, Missouri and Kentucky. All over the place. And we sued the Biden administration for race discrimination, equal protection of the laws is what the constitution says. And this was a violation of that provision, the Constitution, which says that government has to treat everyone equally regardless of their race. And we brought the case, and we won and we got the program halted. So that was really our first big victory in for the Equality Under the Law project.
That is really incredible. And I remember reading and seeing news broadcasts about that case. And I was literally appalled at what I was hearing, in terms of the discrimination regarding Mr. Faust. And it was so heartbreaking to me to see here it was, a disabled farmer who needed help. I mean, that's the type of thing that we would have assistance for. And here it was denied just solely based on race. And I thank you so much for stepping in and helping him and the others involved in this case. And it really highlights a larger conversation that's happening in our country. More of that cultural upheaval that I was talking about in the intro. It seems like wrong becomes right. Up is down, anti-racism is racism. And it just is so confusing to people because things sound good, but under the surface, they are not good. So thank you for bringing that to the forefront. These other farmers that you mentioned in the case, can you share a few details about them as well?
Yes. So we had a farmer who was a tobacco farmer from Kentucky, and he struggled with paying for his gasoline bill. The price of gasoline had gone up tremendously for him. The diesel fuel that he was using had gone up tremendously. He needed help to pay off his loans. And we had a farmer from Minnesota who said that the price of Roundup for him, that he used went something like $9 a gallon to $26 a gallon. And so these farmers, like many small business owners, were stuck with these huge price increases from supplies that they need every day. I had a farmer who was from South Dakota. And one of the things he did is, he was involved in calving operations. And when you help calve a young calf, you need to have nitrate rubber gloves, these certain types of rubber gloves.
And he couldn't get these rubber gloves because of COVID. And he had to pay exorbitant amount of prices for these supplies that he would use in this calving operation. And so when the American Rescue Plan came around, a lot of people said, "Yeah, these farmers deserve some help." But to add this racial angle into it is really sad. And when I say that these people are sort of innocent bystanders in the whole race debate in America, what I mean is that the US Department of Agriculture does have a history of race discrimination against farmers. And it's been documented. There were times back in the 1980s where, excuse me, Black farmers were denied loans, or their loans were not processed in the same way. And, but the way that you would solve that. And we pointed out this to the government.
When we argued the cases, we said, "If you would like to solve the discrimination that you caused, government, back in the 1980s, what you should do is go find those people who you victimized and make it up to them." And we are not disputing that you should remedy past discrimination, but to try to fix discrimination by further victimizing a different group of people who had nothing to do with it doesn't make any sense. For example, it would be akin to trying to take care of what happened to George Floyd, by punishing police officers somewhere else, instead of a police officer actually did the bad thing. So that's why we think there's this sort of disconnect in this modern policy about trying to provide assistance to one racial group. I think policy makers don't understand clearly that you're a detriment to another racial group, which is not fair. And we think all businesses should be able to receive the same government benefits, regardless of who owns the business.
Good point. As you were speaking, I was thinking of what my mom always used to tell me. Two wrongs don't make a right. So often, we try to rationalize our actions based on what other actions are. And she would just always tell me, "Two wrongs don't make a right." And this is clearly an example of two wrongs not making a right. So thank you to you and to Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty for helping these people to not only get justice, but also to create a precedent that protects others. So thank you. And you have some other cases, Jake's Bar and Grill. Would you like to share with the listeners about that? There's so many restaurant owners, some of whom I've interviewed, who have suffered greatly under the lockdowns and mandates and all these compliance issues. Especially with the new administration. And it's great to see that they're getting some help. And I'd love to hear what you're doing for them.
Right. So another part of the American Rescue Plan was to provide $28.6 billion to restaurants that were hurt hard by COVID. And this is near and dear to my heart. My brother is a restaurant owner in Indiana. And so he had had applied for money, and had gotten some CARES Act funds early on in the pandemic and some PPP loans. But there was a special provision just for restaurant owners last summer in the May-June area, which if you were a restaurant owner, you could apply for money from this fund. But if you were a white business owner, you were not given access to the money during this priority period. So they had this period where the money was available. And if you were a restaurant owned by a Black or Hispanic or Native American or Asian, you could apply during this special preview period.
And what happened is that when all these minority-owned businesses and restaurants applied during this initial period, they spent almost all the money from the 28.6, because it was a limited pot of money. So the government tried to make it look like it was just a timing preference. But in fact, it was a preference that excluded everybody who was a white, and so white business owners. So actually when I was on the Faust case, Tony Vitollo, who's a restaurant owner in Tennessee, he called me and he said, "Hey, do you know they're doing the same thing that they're doing against farmers or doing it against restaurant owners?" I said, "You've got to be kidding me." I wasn't focused on this. This wasn't reported at all in the media, at all. And we were focused on our tiny little, $4 billion loan forgiveness program for farmers. Didn't realize there was a $28.6 billion restaurant forgiveness, or a loan grant program.
And so I said, "Well, tell me about what sort of business you have." He says, "Well, I have this Jake's Bar and Grill. It's in Harriman, Tennessee. It's owned by me and I'm white. I own 50%. And my wife owns 50%. And by the way, she's Hispanic." And I said, "Oh." And then he says, "And guess what? If she owned 51% of my business, we would be eligible for these grants. But because she only owns 50%, we're just a plain old, white-owned business." So we went to federal court on behalf of Tony and Jake's Bar and Grill. We lost the case initially in Tennessee, in front of a judge who was appointed by President Obama. And we had made an emergency appeal to the sixth circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati. And we got them to reverse that and to put a halt to the program. They put the program, totally stopped it before all the money could run out. And they were able to stop it in time.
So some businesses who were discriminated against were able to get their money at the end, including our client. Who got a check for $104,000, which was his small business grant that he asked for. So our client got money. The problem is that the program needed to be perhaps $200 billion to cover all the losses of restaurants or maybe even more. And so, even though we were able to stop it in time, not everybody was able to get a grant. But a lot of people were able to get grants regardless of their race. So we were able to put a stop to the race discrimination about halfway through, is about what it ended up being. But it was such a quick turnaround. And we had to move very fast and a lot of working in the middle of the night, trying to get this put together and filed and argued. So we were able to go as fast as we could. And we had a great success in that case.
Well, again, I salute you and WILL for doing that, and congratulations on that success. Because as business owners go through all these things, they often feel like they're the only one. And they don't even know what to do. And there's lawyers like you. I referred to freedom-loving lawyers who are willing to work in the middle of the night, like you just mentioned. And to really work, to protect freedom for their clients and for others. I mean, this is a generational win in a sense. When you talk about really being able to halt racial discrimination and to change the conversation about it. And you've helped these farmers, you've helped these restaurant owners. Hopefully in turn, that has a ripple effect of helping many other business owners. And I'm sure some of the listeners may be listening to this thinking, "This can't be. I can't even believe they would do this."
"It makes no sense at all." Well, I would just say that really there's so much of what's happening now makes no sense at all, and does not follow previous legal precedent, or the Constitution or anything close to it. So it's really important that we all stay very aware and alert. And I know you and your team are working to educate people on these threats to freedom, not just through the work of these lawsuits, but as you've created information on the website too, about things in education and higher education. In K through 12 education. Could you share a little bit about that? Because that's really where this all begins. It really begins in education, and we need to focus on how we're going to educate our young people and even our employees. As I always talk about educating employees in businesses, we sometimes have to reeducate. So they understand more about the truth of our Constitution and the freedoms that it provides. It's a real educational challenge. So could you explain a little bit more about what you're doing with that?
Right. And I should just tell your listeners too, that all the things I'm talking about are on our website, which is defendequality.org, which talks specifically about the Equality Under the Law project. That's defendequality.org. And our main website is will-law.org. And if you are a small business or a business who feels like they've been discriminated against by the government, and this is happening more and more. Biden's infrastructure plan, for example, has a lot of discrimination against white business owners. That you can go on that website and you can click on the link for "Contact a lawyer," and you can fill out a form.
And we will evaluate your request and get back to you. And as I said, our best cases are not ones that I think up on my own. It's that an actual business person calls me and says, "Hey, did you know this was going on? I applied for this grant. And they said, 'Well, the grant's only available for marginalized communities, or socially disadvantaged businesses or minority-owned business.'" All these sort of buzzwords you hear. And we hear about these from businesses who, they figure out they're being discriminated against, but they have to really look carefully at what the government's requiring and what the benefit is.
That's a really good point that these businesses are the ones are reaching out to you. So if you are a business, and you see some discrimination occurring, please go to defendequality.org and reach out to WILL. And at least let them know what your situation is. And if they're not the ones to help you, they could refer you to someone that would be the more appropriate help or whatever. But just like Daniel's doing, there's lawyers across the country. In every state, in every city, I imagine working to defend freedom. But there are those who really have had these great success with some profile cases that affect things across the nation. So Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty may have the Wisconsin name in front of it, but the effects of your work are felt nationwide and really, I would always say ripple across the world. Because when freedom is promoted, it ripples across the world. So.
Right. Yes. And right now we represent 34 clients in 15 different states. So we are in 15 states and we are happy to take cases nationwide. And yes, public school transparency is one of the big issues right now. We found out about the transparency issues in a kind of an unusual way, is that we wanted to write a report about critical race theory in schools. And so we thought, "Well, we'll just send public records requests to school districts. And say, 'Well, can you give us your materials that talk about systemic racism or white privilege, or unconscious bias, all the basic hallmarks of critical race theory. Equities and racial disparities and things like that.'" And so we sent these very well-crafted public records requests, and we got responses back from school districts that said, well, one school district said, "We can't really fulfill this because if we ask teachers for their teaching materials, they're just not going to provide it to us."
"They're just not going to give it to us. Teachers won't give it to you." And we said, "Well, there is actually a law that says that you have to provide public records to someone who asked for it." And so we got stonewalled a couple times, and we got responses from the administration in certain school districts that said things like, "Well, we don't teach this. No, we don't teach this." And we said, "Well, why don't you just go look and see if you do?" And then all of a sudden, they'd come back with thousands of pages of documents talking about the 1619 Project or all of these sort of proxies for critical race theory. But one problem we encounter is that some of the big school districts would just write us back and say, "Okay, well, this will cost $10,000." And one school district, we asked for teaching materials, just from a few teachers. And they said it would be thousands of dollars. And-
What was their reasoning for that?
They said, "Well, under our state law, we get to charge you for location costs. And location costs would mean that we have to pay one of our secretaries or one of our teachers. We have to pay them $25 an hour, $30 an hour to go search for all these things that you're looking for. And it just will take so much time and so much effort. And so you need to pay us that upfront." And we thought, "Well, what is the average parent trying to do? The parent's not going to pay a thousand dollars. The parent's not going to pay $50." So we started to work with the legislature to develop a curriculum transparency bill that said that teachers had to post online their instructional materials. And their instructional materials would be things like their handouts or the outlines of what they were going to talk about that day, or their teaching plans, or maybe PowerPoints that they show the kids. Things that they already have, like things they should have on their computer.
They can just click and just drag it to the website. How hard is, we weren't asked getting them to create anything new, or go find anything. And the Teachers Unions and the Department of Education, Department of Public Instruction testified against the bill, and just wailed and moaned about all the time and effort and cost and how difficult this would be. How impossible it would be. And by the way, we don't need to do this because the law already requires us to tell you what our curriculum is. Which we responded by saying, "Well, then why didn't you give us your curriculum when we ask?" So there was all this sort of mixed messages, but it was passed by the legislature here in Wisconsin. But, and then it was vetoed recently by our governor.
Unfortunately. Yes, but that's a good example of legislation that can be presented again. But also other states may want to contact you at that defendequality.org website, and find out about that legislation, the drafting of the bill and what the wording is that could help them in their states. And you mentioned how these school officials, there was wailing and moaning about what they might have to do. And I thought, "Well, what about all of us who are paying the taxes? And we can't see what we're paying for." That causes us to wail and moan a little bit. It's frustrating, because so often people just don't stop to think that they are actually paying for that. And with the government, there's so many things that they treat us as if we're not the ones paying the bill and we are. So we should be able to see what is being taught.
And schools are government agencies. Oh, public school district's a government agency. It's just like the city mayor's office or the assessor, or the county clerk, or the Department of Transportation. It's no different, it's a government agency with government employees. And they have a duty to be transparent to the public. It's not a private school. It's not a private business. And so when the government has to do something under a law, they need to follow that. I have another client from a school district who was struggling with her child who was getting bad grades at school. And she asked her son who was in middle school, "What's going on?" And he says, "Well, there's a lot of disruptions in the classroom. There's fighting in the classroom. There's bad language being used. The teacher doesn't give us homework. There's a new textbook."
"This curriculum's confusing." He told his mom all these things and his mom said, "Well, maybe I should just go sit in on your class." Well, she wrote an email to the teacher, said, "I would like to sit in on the class." Teacher said, "Let me forward this to the principal." And the principal responded, "Well, we don't think it's appropriate for you to come to the classroom." And then said, "Well, because of COVID, we have to limit outside guests." But then you look on their website, and they have all sorts of outside guests coming in. They gave all these mixed answers about why this mother couldn't come and sit in the sixth grade class to observe what was going on. And the mother called me and I said, "Well, there's actually a federal law that requires a school to provide access for in-person observation by parents. Parents have a right to observe their child's classroom in person."
And so I wrote a letter to the school district, and immediately the school district hired their lawyer. And the lawyer called me, and she was very nice. And I said, "Well, you know there's this federal law." And she said, "Well, yeah, we do know there's a federal law. And the mom should call and we'll set it up right away." And so, yeah, she got to observe her son's classroom. And now she gets to talk to him about what's going on in there. Maybe can help improve his educational outcome.
But again, this mother had to call a lawyer, and then the school district called their lawyer. And it's just very frustrating that schools can't follow basic rules or honor basic rights of parents. And so that's why I think a lot of the nationwide movement now is to put into law more transparency. Parents' bills of rights have been going around the legislatures around the country. We hope that someday we'll have one in Wisconsin that lays out rights that parents have, that they can point to and identify. And so we think that's probably the next step with legislatures, is besides transparency, to getting a list of affirmative rights that parents have. So that they can know what they're allowed to do, and know what sort of access they can get to schools.
That's so important. And the children are a part of the family, and the children do not belong to the state or to the federal government. They belong to the family. And it's every right that the tax-paying parents have access to that curriculum. And to all parents out there, I just want to encourage you. Don't let the government be the babysitter or overseer of everything for your kids. Stand up. You can stand up, defend the freedom to protect your children from curriculum that you don't think is appropriate, but also for environments that you think may be harmful to your kids as well. So, and for those that are in a great school, support the good things. We're talking about negative things now, but let's applaud good things that are happening. So, but with transparency, we get to see both.
So we can bring forward the good and eliminate the bad, but we don't know if it's hidden. So thank you for bringing that to light and helping people. And we live in strange times because as I said before, up is down and right is wrong. And now when parents go and try to defend their right to know, or have an opinion about the curriculum or materials that are being used for their children, many of them are being deemed domestic terrorists. They're being profiled, they're being detained, their reputations are hurt.
And it's just a horrible environment where the parents are the guilty ones supposedly, and they're just really trying to find truth and to protect their children from things that they don't feel are appropriate. So it's a strange time that we're living in, but the cascading effects of what has been going on in our culture for many, many years, and in our government really lead to this. And that leads us into the mandates. America is really run by we, the people, or it should be.
And so we just need to take back our rightful place as the ones in charge of this government. So thank you, Daniel. And if people want to reach out for you again, they can go to the website defendequality.org. Or would you like to share your email that they could reach out directly?
Yep. They can email me email@example.com. So firstname.lastname@example.org. They can email me there, or I post on Twitter at Dan Lennington. Post things related to what's going on at WILL and what we're doing, and things I'm interested in. So those are the two best ways to get ahold of me.
Wow. That is great. So I hope you hear from a lot of the listeners, and thank you for everything you're doing to protect freedom in Wisconsin and around the country. Thank you.
Great. Thank you.
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