High School Students should have Freedom of Speech

23:43 Tue 09 Oct 2007. Updated: 00:45 10 Oct 2007
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Recently a Marietta, Georgia school has come under fire for allowing a student to publish, in the school newspaper, an opinion piece comparing homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome. School officials are standing by the decision despite the furor (and some national media attention) the piece has caused.

In my view, this demonstrates quite clearly yet another reason why student speech should be constitutionally protected. A school official, defending the publication, stated, “Whether the content is popular or not, it’s not up to us to decide what runs as long as it’s not disruptive.”

Quite. That sounds nice. It sounds like it almost fits in with the concept of free speech. But the obvious problem is that someone—in this case some school official(s)—are the arbiters of what counts as “disruptive”. Often restrictions like this end up censoring any speech that rocks the boat, a serious problem in itself, but here we have a different problem, where if the speech is controversial but fits in with the personal views of the administration, it gets published. Controversial speech that doesn’t fit has no such guarantee, and hence the school officials can influence student speech in quite obvious ways.

Thus protesting—or even making nonsensical comment regarding—drug prohibition laws can be suppressed, but calling homosexuality a “reproductive error” gets published. These are different schools, of course, but that’s just highlighting another part of the problem: student speech can be arbitrarily suppressed depending on where a student goes to school, the whims of the censoring functionary that day, the political winds blowing through the school district, and so on. The idea that students’ speech rights, especially in non-classroom outlets like the school paper, must be denied in order to “protect the educational mission” is obviously absurd, and all of the judges who have ruled differently are doing is enabling petty bureaucrats in their attempts to stretch their authority far beyond what it rightly should be.

Incidentally, the school claims that counterpoints will be allowed in future editions. That’s nice. That statement is also not legally binding, so they can ignore it later if they like, and further they can spike or sabotage the opposing pieces in any number of ways that will be almost invulnerable to legal challenge, thanks to the insistence of the courts that schools inherently have exempt status from that inconvenient part of the Constitution.

2 Responses to “High School Students should have Freedom of Speech”

  1. Lestat Says:

    Amen. Im so sick of school officials restricing us from our constiturional rights.

  2. Smith Says:

    I do not think that schools should be allowed to ban free speech. The constitution’s first ammendment covers who ever is an American Citizen. And since we are all American Citizens no matter if we go to school, if we are a cop, if we are a government worker, etc. We should be allowed to speak our mind. For exsample if somebody is allowed to stand in Times Square in New York City and publically bad mouth the President of the Federal Republic of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, The U. S. Military, and many others, why shouldn’t a student in a rural high school in rural Pennsylvania be allowed to badmouth a facualty member or whom ever in that school. The first amendment is a right not a privlage and according to society you can take a privlage away not a right. So if the first amendment is a right why should schools be alowed to take that away, so therefore I think schools should not be allowed to ban free speech

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