Someone actually upholds free speech for students

The federal courts, in particular the Supreme Court, has a history of making incorrect decisions regarding free speech. In 2007 it ruled that student Joseph Frederick could not hold up a sign that read “Bong hits 4 Jesus” because it occurred during a school sponsored event. In reality, Frederick never entered school that day, so he was effectively an independent citizen on a public sidewalk. Why the Supreme Court never considered this fact remains a mystery.

However, sometimes the courts make the correct decisions. That is the case with Katherine Evans.

Ms. Evans’s suspension first came to the attention of the civil liberties union in 2007. Then a high school senior and an honor student, Ms. Evans repeatedly clashed with Ms. Phelps, her English teacher, over assignments, Ms. Evans has said.

She turned to Facebook to vent her frustration. At home on her computer, Ms. Evans created a Facebook page titled “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever had” and invited past and current students of Ms. Phelps to post their own comments.

A federal court just ruled that Evans does have the right to continue with her suit. This is the obviously correct decision. The ability of school administrators to limit the free speech rights of students ends with school grounds or school sponsored events. They cannot reach beyond the classroom and into the lives of students. In any case where they do (such as this one), they have violated the rights enshrined in the constitution.

“This is an important victory both for Ms. Evans and Internet free speech,” Ms. Kayanan said, “because it upholds the principle that the right to freedom of speech and expression in America does not depend on the technology used to convey opinions and ideas.”

This becomes all the more obvious once one transplants the situation into something parallel. Say Evans was criticizing the administration or teachers or school in general – except instead of making a Facebook page, she wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper. In that instance, a suspension would have been met with outrage. (Perhaps because old people would understand what was happening.) This situation is no different. The principal acted inappropriately and should have been able to see that in the first place.

3 Responses

  1. So let me see if I have the distinction right.

    If a group of students read their Bibles in class and wear Jesus t-shirts, they are being disruptive and should be shamed or punished.

    If the same group of students created a web page saying ‘Teacher so-and-so is an evil atheist and is going to hell’ and invited other students to share their thoughts on this, they should be free to do so without repercussion?

  2. Absolutely. Free speech can be limited within the classroom and at school functions and this is reasonable. But to limit a person’s free speech simply because she’s a student makes no sense.

  3. Yep.

    As long as they don’t say anything provably untrue about the teacher, in which case there is civil recourse.

    Of course, simply wearing their t-shirts is no problem, either. But if it is part of a greater pattern of harassment, it is a problem.

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