Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Free Speech, Damn it!

Kos is reporting that Bush visited the Richland Center School District, which is not far from Madison, where

Students were told they could not wear any pro-Kerry clothing or buttons or protest in any manner, at the risk of expulsion.

Now, if you want to make rally attendees sign a loyalty oath and remove those who express a contrary viewpoint, fine. People are coming to your rallies voluntarily. Kids have to go to school every day.

But the law is clear: public school districts do not exist in a First Amendment vacuum. Schools are allowed to regulate clothing insofar as style goes (no see through shirts, for example), or where the regulation of speech concerns "aggressive, disruptive action or even group demonstrations." Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 507-08 (1969).

Here, as in Tinker, "There is here no evidence whatever ...[of] interference, actual or nascent, with the schools' work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone." Id. The principal can't censor student speech unless she shows that the speech would "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school." Id. at 509. I don't think a presidential visit is the normal operation of the school, and I don't think political dissension materially or substantially interferes with appropriate discipline, either.

I suppose it's another school principal who thinks that school policy takes precedence over the Constitution.


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