Free speech rules

Letter to the Editor

Posted: Monday, May 06, 2002

Related:

Word Of Mouth

I want to respond to the Word of Mouth submitted by Kathleen Schmitz, asking the ACLU to step back from the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case. Ms. Schmitz ignores the most important point about this controversy: Mr. Frederick's free-speech rights were blatantly violated by the school administration.

The law is very clear: In a conflict between free speech and school rules, unless the school can show that speech is disruptive to the educational process, free speech wins every time. The courts have ruled in case after case, in contexts ranging from Vietnam war protests to protests against school uniforms, that students enjoy robust free speech rights unless they are interfering with the school's educational mission. There is absolutely no constitutional basis on which the school can regulate a student's speech off of school property during the student's free time.

The ACLU does not question the district's right to preserve a drug-free environment in the schools. However, the district cannot accomplish that goal by trampling on the First Amendment. There is no evidence that Mr. Frederick's ambiguous banner, which was displayed off school property, while he was not in school, in a setting that was open to the general public, was disruptive of anything except perhaps Ms. Morse's peace of mind. Ms. Morse's sensibilities, or for that matter the district's generalized concern for a drug-free school environment, are not a constitutional basis to punish Mr. Frederick for the content of his speech.

Paul H. Grant

AkCLU Board member

Juneau



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