In 1787 our forefathers ratified the constitution of the United
States of America, which contains the most important document to
any American citizen, the Bill of Rights. The first amendment of the
Bill of Rights states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the establishment thereof; or
abridging the freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
government for a redress of grievances.
these freedoms (commonly called the freedom of expression) are of
the most important rights in a truly democratic society. Without
them there would be no new ideas; we would all conform under
totalitarian rule for fear of punishment. However, when I, a common
student at West Rowan High School try to express my feelings on "the
state of the Bill of Rights in schools today" by making a computer
presentation in multimedia class, my work is declared "bad" and my
teacher and assistant principal do one of the most un-American things
imaginable: they censored it. I had to re-make the presentation and
lighten the harsh tone, and also erase the anarchy symbol from it. The
teacher said that she was worried about me for reasons such as my
feelings on the freedom of religion were almost satanic, because I said
teachers should not be able to publicly practice religion in schools
because it will encourage students to become a part of that religion.
The presentation was neither slanderous nor obscene, but it did
criticize teachers and administrators calling them "fascist dictators".
At first I was angry at the school because I could wear clothing that
was obscene or contained liquor advertisements, now they have
completely taken away my freedom of speech. This of course proved
my argument that teachers and administrators are totalitarians. As
one journalist put it, "If Freedom of expression becomes merely an
empty slogan in the minds of enough children, it will be dead by the
time we are adults." I soon began reading more and more about the
freedom of speech in schools and every time a subject as such came up
the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the student declaring the action
unconstitutional under the first amendment. As I was reading Nat
Hentoff's book The First Freedom I came across a story in which a
student wrote a newspaper article criticizing the school administration,
soon after he ran for student government and was taken off the ballot
for his critique. Unfortunately he did not fight it in court. The principal sharply taught the student, "The constitution of this school takes precedence over the United States Constitution. The freedom of expression in school is marred by
society but not completely dissolved by the administration.
The 1969 supreme court ruling Tinker v. Des Moins Community
Schools defined a student's freedom of speech best. John and Mary
Beth Tinker wore black armbands to school as a protest of the
Vietnam war. It was a silent protest; the Tinker's never caused one
problem, although some students did make threats at them. The
school's administrators made them take them off. Their case made it
all the way to the US Supreme Court, where it won a 7-2 ruling.
(Pascoe, 96) Justice Abe Fortas gave an excellent interpretation of a
students freedom of speech when he said:
"It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed
their rights at the schoolhouse gate... In our system, state-
operated schools may not be the enclaves of totalitarianism.
School officials do not possess absolute authority over their
students. Students in school as well as out of school are
'persons' under our constitution. ...Students may not be regarded
as closed circuit recipients of only that which the State wishes to
communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of
those sentiments that are officially approved".
In essence Fortas stated that a student could say whatever they wanted, no matter what it was. However, The Court acknowledged that there would be times when expression should be limited; such as if a student disrupted classwork,
"created substantial disorder," or infringed on the rights of others. The fact that the administration thought it might cause a disturbance was not enough. The court said:
" Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority's opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class in the lunchroom, or on the campus may
start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk."
Tinker 's opinion stood as a rule until 1983 when Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier changed academic history again. Students in Hazelwood wrote articles on teen pregnancy and divorce in their student newspaper
The Spectrum, and their principal deleted them because they were "inappropriate". The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school because they said the school shouldn't be required to endorse ideas it considered unsuitable. This decision
gave administrators the right to censor newspapers, plays and many other activities. Everything the students printed was fact and they should be able to say whatever they want as long as it isn't libelous.
Later in 1986, Bethel School District v. Matthew Fraser further defined the extent of a student's rights. Fraser made a speech nominating a friend for student-government and used a few lightly disguised sexual innuendoes.
He was subsequently suspended for it. The Court upheld his speech was obscene because of the strong sexual metaphor that follows:
"I know a man who is firm. He is firm in his pants he is firm in his
shirt, his character is firm-- but most...of all his belief in you, the students of Bethel, is firm.
Jeff Kuhlman is a man who takes his point and pounds it in. If necessary he will take an issue and nail it to the wall. He doesn't attack things in spurts- he drives hard, pushing and pushing
until finally- he succeeds.
Jeff is a man who will go to the very end- even the climax for each
and every one of you.
So vote for Jeff for A.S.B. vice-president- he'll never come between you and the best our high school can be."
This decision further defined a student's freedom of speech by stating that a student may not say anything obscene.
The first amendment is the most important one because, without it there would be no new ideas. It is a shame our country's students must live under the dictatorship commonly called the "School Board." It is thought that
freedom of speech would cause anarchy, but in most instances it is perfectly acceptable. Our government needs to revise and outline a students rights to avoid confusion, and give pupils the rights they deserve.