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Free Speech in School


A recent case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court is testing the bounds of student freedom of speech and school discipline. Centering around an Alaskan student's irreverent banner calling for "Bong Hits for Jesus," the case taps into a basic question: Should students' right to free speech be protected at the risk of creating a free-for-all school environment where administrators and teachers lack the authority to censor inappropriate behavior?

Where do you draw the line? What is a balanced approach to free speech in school?


If the Supreme Court finds in favor of the students, it can open pandora's box and make it quite difficult to create a safe and appropriate learning environment. One, the whole movement toward uniforms in public schools would be done. Students could argue that their rights are being violated when it comes to expressing their personal values. Second, "Separation of Church and State" will be challenged simply because faith has been brought into the picture. This will open the door for religious teen groups to hang banners expressing thier faith. This kind of reminds me of college and all the different groups rallying around their causes on campus. Third, the implication of drug use in the banner should have been enough to end this at the school level as most schools promote a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drug use and stuff that promotes it. I personally do not see this getting the backing of our current Supreme court.

Here, once again is one of those cases that must be evaluated on an individual basis. Reading through the Ed.Week article, (Vol.26, No 27)it appears from the photo and by the description of the actualevent, that the student in question was not on the school grounds at the time of the incident. He is said to have been "across the street". He was, however truant, having called in to say he was unable to attend because his car was stuck in the snow. The controversy could have been quickly and civily settled by suspending the student for skipping school. The sign in question, while suggestive of drug use and some obscure religious connection, did not really violate any public law. Schools are not legislative bodies and do not make laws. They do set rules of conduct and may certainly enforce those rules. The rules should be reasonable and fair and stay within the bounds of established law in the area. The article also mentions that this particular student had also raised the ire of the school by refusing to stand during the "Pledge of Alleigance". This is, in fact a protected right, in the Constitution.
The point is that all too often more is made of such trivial issues than ought to be. The Juneau case is not really a matter of Free Speach and the student's right to free speech was not violated. He was allowed to and did express himself, rather stupidly in my opinion. He wasn't arrested, jailed or in any way legally dealt with for the act. He was punished for violating school rules and really did not suffer any particular hardship for it. dragging this through the courts is a waste of school and court time, as well as taxpayers' money. Freedom of expression does not necessarily mean freedom from consequences.

Schools, as part of their educational mission, have the right (and duty) to keep schools safe. Teachers have the right and duty to maintain order. Students have a right to free speech, but it is limited by the schools' duty to enforce rules and maintain order. All this principal needed to do was see if this banner was, in fact, causing a disruption to the school-sponsored event. She would then have been well within her rights to demand that the student take it down, regardless of what it said. The minute she started judging its content (she maintains that it promotes drug use. The student says it was just a silly sign so that he could get attention - he sure got lots of that, didn't he?) she put herself at risk of violating this student's free speech rights. And regardless of what you might think - oh, what harm did he suffer?, etc., when the Constitutional rights of one are violated, it is serious indeed. My guess is that the SC will rule on the side of the school because it was interpreted as 'drug speech', which is against school rules, which means principal had a right to discipline him. We'll see. Be careful in your classrooms when you censor student speech. One writer said that if it had been considered religious, it would have violated the establishment clause. This is not true. A student may speak regarding their religious views; the government is the one that can't promote a religion. I think that in view of this and many other current cases, teachers and principals should have some training on what is ok, and what is not. We can't all be expected to be first amendment experts when even the "experts" disagree!

This issue goes beyond the schools. Free speech has made our entire country less safe. At the founding of our nation Benjamin Franklin said, "Only virtuous people are capable of freedom." John Adams went on to support this by saying, "We have no government armed with powers capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords or our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." As the citizens of the country become more amoral the Constitution becomes less effective at governing us. Free speech gives us the opportunity to be as Two Live Crew puts it, "As nasty as I want to be." This can be seen most clearly in the availability of pornography on the internet. Free speech must be curbed in the schools as it must be curbed in society as a whole. Our safety as citizens both inside and outside the schools as well as our very form of government depends on it.

The letter from Mr. Ken Jensen is quite difficult to fathom. First, he picks two quotes that he seems to think support his argument against free speech. Many of us could supply Mr. Jensen with countless quotes from notable citizens refuting his specious argument; and do so convincingly.
And Mr. Jensen, I would have hoped you would know that free speech is already curbed to some extent in the schools. Read the case law! Students in school are not allowed to express themselves in certain ways in certain contexts if it distracts from the job of a school, which is to educate. If speech is curbed in society at large, however, where does it stop? What happens when someone curbs your right to free speech, Mr. Jensen? If that happened you would see the danger of restricting peoples’ rights – but by then it would be too late. By then you would not be safe, and neither would anyone else. The Framers of the Constitution knew that, and by now you should too. That you as a citizen – and as an educator no less! – could hold such myopic and fearful views of what it means to be an American is scary. Truly scary.

We are trying to teach our students to think critically, question authority and become active members in society. How are we supposed to do that when we can not even let them question our authority and express themselves from their points of view? If i give a project in which they are to express a point of view on something in society (the very thing we are striving to make them a part of), how can I keep that from offending other people? How can I assure them that their actions will not get them, or myself in trouble? How am I supposed to teach in a country that contradicts its laws to suit the majority?
As far as I see it this student was taking an active role in making a statement regarding his rights.


as I was sitting in class this boy had on a pair of gloves and the teacher "told" him to take the off he said I have the right to wear them If I want they are not bothering nobody and the teacher told him to "get" in the hall and they sent him to alternitive school this girl started a Pation and they said that they were going to expell her for that they had no right to say they can not free speech

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  • jack: as I was sitting in class this boy had on read more
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  • A citizen of the United States: The letter from Mr. Ken Jensen is quite difficult to read more
  • Ken Jensen parent and educator: This issue goes beyond the schools. Free speech has made read more




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