There is perhaps nothing that gets me more worked up than a case of a Governmental Entity, particularly public schools (which are TAX DOLLAR SUPPORTED) blatantly violating the First Amendment.
I believe that this is what has happened in a case heard before the 2nd Circuit yesterday. The case is Doninger v. Niehoff. This is a case to watch as it may re-define Freedom of Speech for Students and on the Internet.
Background on Case
Avery Doninger was a student and class officer at Lewis S. Mills High School in Burlington, CT. Avery organized a "jam fest" as part of a school sponsored event. There was a series of re-scheduling and changes to the event by school administration. After a series of meetings with the administration, to no avail, Ms. Doninger wrote on her personal blog, hosted at livejournal.com, "'Jamfest' is canceled due to douchebags in central office," and encouraged other students to start an email campaign to "piss off" the administrator.
Two weeks or so after the blog post, the school administration became aware of what she had written on her blog and told her she would not be allowed to run for class office as punishment. Despite this, Avery won election as a write-in candidate. The school told Avery that she was being punished for her blog entry and would not be allowed to serve.
A suit was filed in District Court. U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz ruled that he believed that the punishment was valid because, "the blog was related to school issues, and it was reasonably foreseeable that other LMHS students would view the blog and that school administrators would become aware of it" (see Slip Opinion).
The case was appealed to the 2nd Circuit and arguments were heard yesterday.
DiscussionThe Supreme Court has restricted student speech under certain circumstances, but the Tinker case stated that students do have some rights to Free Speech. Fraser said that sexual-innuendo at a school assembly was not protected. Hazelwood further clarified by stating that a school sponsored could be censored for legitimate educational reasons by the school as it is sponsored by the school. The most recent case decided by the Supreme Court, Morse v. Frederick decided that a students speech could be restricted at a school sponsored event off school grounds if it advocated illegal activity such as drug use (the "Bong Hits for Jesus" case).
Even with these cases in mind, Judge Kravitz appears to be writing his own law!
Yes, the blog entry was related to school issues, but it was written away from school, on private bandwidth/internet access and was not written on a school network system.
The school argues that the web has changed the way students communicate in that they can reach hundreds of people at a time. Counsel for the school stated, If vulgar speech relates to the school or a public event, the school should be able to regulate it.
This argument of the school is in MY OPINION vulgar. It borders on totalitarianism What is next? If a student sends an instant message over AOL while at home to another student that says "Mrs. Smith is a bad teacher" will that now be punishable? Can a student therefore be punished because they send an SMS Message from their cell while at the Mall that says, "Principal Jones is a bastard?"
What next? Will students be punished because they told their Parent in the privacy of their own home that they think a teacher is an idiot? Will Students be suspended because they THOUGHT something MEAN to a Teacher?
THIS IS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. What a student types on their own computer at home away from school should be protected speech, NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT OFFENDS THE SCHOOL.
Having the Right to Criticize our Government and Government Officials (school officials are Taxpayer paid and sometimes elected and are therefore Quasi Government Officials) is FUNDAMENTAL to being American--
Or at least that's what the Founding Fathers thought.
UPDATE: Maybe the school officials and their lawyer got their views from another "Government" that punishes free speech on the web- COMMUNIST CUBA-- See Cyber-rebels in Cuba defy state's limits