Tag Archives: first amendment

How does the first amendment protect what teachers say in the classroom?

Each day millions of parents send their children to schools where teachers are ignorant, or disobedient, to the restrictions of what and how they can teach in the classroom. Topics such as religion, politics, and other controversial issues are being portrayed unequally, infringing upon student’s right to a fair view on the world around them.

Students have a wide range of religious freedom protected by the First Amendment in the classroom, such as forming religious based groups, praying in the classroom if not distracting, and incorporating their beliefs into school assignments. But, teachers have many more restrictions than students. In public school, teachers and school districts are required by the First Amendment to neither promote nor inhibit religion. Fairness is demonstrated when the curriculum includes academic study about religion when the content is tied to academic objectives to ensure a rounded education. Although court systems are not black and white, and many cases fall in a gray area, teachers should be educated on their overall limitations.

Because classrooms are not considered public forums, teachers must work within school limitations in their approach to sensitive topics, careful not to take sides on political controversies. Unfortunately this has not been the case especially during the recent election. The Washington Post published an article from October 14th, 2016 glorifying “Teachers of the Year” who are publicly going against their obligation to remain neutral involving political topics in the classroom. Instead of being punished for their violation of what teachers can and cannot do inside the classroom, their “moral imperative” to spread their opinions to their students was praised. Classrooms in my own school have shown evident bias towards political candidates, and teachers have encouraged students with the same views to act disrespectfully towards opinions of opposite views. If a small school in Wisconsin has such a large divide and lack of respectful discussion for students with a range of diverse beliefs, what other inequities are taking place nationwide, and what will we do about it?

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Speech Codes: Are They a Scourge or a Savior to Free Speech?

Many people know the First Amendment: the right to expression, the right to peacefully assemble, freedom of the press, the right to petition the government, etcetera. However, not many people know where the boundaries of these rights lie. People push these boundaries all the time and right now college campuses are but one example. Administrators at colleges are attempting to enforce speech codes. Yet, does enforcing speech codes violate the right to free expression described in the First Amendment? How far can speech codes go before the contradict the rights to free expression and peaceful protesting described in the First Amendment?

There are many ways speech codes could be enforced. But depending on how they are applied, they could break the First Amendment. A few forms of expression, specifically in regards to free speech, that are not protected by the First Amendment are slander or libel, fighting words, and obscenity. This means that someone can not go in front of a crowd and defame, insult, threaten, or say anything that may be considered hate speech to someone without consequences. One example of hate speech can be seen in a video of Milo Yiannopoulous at UW Milwaukee. In this video, he verbally attacked and degraded a transgender student. They still were spoken with no point other than to make fun of a subject and way of life that Yiannopoulous did not agree with. Another example of hate speech and fighting words is threats. As stated by Ben Shapiro, some people “greeted the birth of [his] second child by calling for [him, his] wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber”. There was no purpose to this statement other than to express a disagreement with his religion. Under the First Amendment, hate speech is not something you can say without consequences. Speech Codes cannot be used to prevent speakers with controversial opinions from speaking. They cannot prevent people from peacefully disagreeing and debating about topics. However, speech codes can apply consequences if that speech becomes hateful or slanderous since that speech would no longer be protected under the First Amendment.

Some Speech Codes are also attempting to limit the student’s right to peacefully protest a speaker. The First Amendment specifically says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. To restrict the right to peacefully assemble is a direct violation of the First Amendment. Yet, as seen on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website, also known as FIRE, some college campuses are restricting the student’s rights to peacefully assemble and protest on the grounds that they are disrupting the speaker’s right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act states that “protests and demonstrations that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction”. There must be a line drawn as to what qualifies as disruptive and interfering demonstrations. The line is whether or not there is any form of violence or hate speech. If a protester simply said the speaker was wrong, held signs, and argued about right versus wrong, nothing can be done about it because they are protesting peacefully, as the First Amendment says they can. However, if a protestor started doing damage or cursing out the speaker, then they would have to face consequences. Recently at UC Berkeley, protesters became very violent at a speech by Yiannopoulous and had to be escorted off the premises. UC Berkeley encompasses what a protest that is not protected by the First Amendment is, and what Speech Codes can restrict.

In the end, Speech codes can be useful to make speeches more peaceful and clearly define punishments for breaking that peace, however, they must still subject to the First Amendment.

Sources:

EBSCO: The New Battle Over Campus Free Speech

Milo Yiannopoulos verbally attacks a transgender student (1:30-3:05)

The Atlantic: The Glaring Evidence That Free Speech Is Threatened on Campus

Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act

A few examples of Hate Speech against Ben Shapiro

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)

UC Berkeley

Is School The New Church?

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North Carolina’s Governor stated the intended goal of the proposed law would be to, “clarify student rights to engage in prayer and religious activity in school, to create an administrative process for remedying complaints regarding exercise of those student rights and to clarify religious activity for school personnel.”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all. So our founders created the First Amendment — to guarantee the separation of church and state.

It is important that no new law corrupt or infringe on the constitutional rights of our citizens.

It is clear that this law is yet another attempt to do just that. To enact this law will open the school district to lawsuits from students and faculty alike in regards to expressions of religion that are or could be construed as unconstitutional.   In the  court case of  “ Wallace  v.   Jaffree “ this is exemplified.  Another case that addresses this subject of prayer during school functions such as graduation was found to be unconstitutional when considering that the school would be public. This was concluded in the case of “ Lee v. Weisman”.   

    What is needed instead perhaps is clarification of the constitution, as expression is already protected in a personal way. Examples include a student’s personal views as ascribed in a paper perhaps what is forbidden is an organized school sponsored prayer or prayer group.  

 

 

 

USA News “School Prayer fight Begins Anew” USA News.2014/08/2014

“Wallace v. Jaffree.” Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1984/83-812. Accessed 22 Feb. 2017.

“Lee v. Weisman.” Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1991/90-1014. Accessed 22 Feb. 2017.

Universities Limit the Right to Freedom of Expression

The first amendment is one of the most important and debated facets of our democracy.  It allows us to express our thoughts and feelings in different forms including the right to freedom of  expression, speech, assembly, and petition.  Despite that all of these are protected under the law there a lot of grey areas that create controversy.  Recently there has been debate over whether or not universities should be allow to limit students’ rights to free speech.  Many students feel like their rights are being stripped away from them in a place where they are supposed to be encouraged to embrace their ideals and independence.  With new laws being put in place, allowing universities to restrict rights protected under the first amendment,  there is more controversy than ever.

On October 29th of 2016 a fan at University of Wisconsin-vs.-Nebraska game wore an Obama costume with a noose tied around its neck.  The fan was asked to remove the offensive parts of the costume and agreed.  The debate comes into play if the man had not complied with the university’s request.  Would they have had the right to further pursue the issue?  Although the costume was extremely offensive and could be considered violent and racist, the man was technically exercising his right to freedom of expression.  He was not making any threats nor putting anyone in danger.  Just because the costume is deemed offensive does not mean it is violating the rights protected under the first amendment.  In another case, the University of Missouri expelled a student who published an article in an underground newspaper that contained offensive language.  When the case was brought to court it was ruled, “the mere dissemination of ideas-no matter how offensive to good taste- on a state university campus may not be shut off in the same alone of ‘conventions of decency'”.

Despite the offensive and racist nature of the fan’s costume, it is protected under the first amendment and he is allowed to wear it.  An important thing to remember when it comes to cases like this is that they are all different and need to be handled that way.  Universities need to keep in mind that their institutions are a crucial place for students to express themselves and their belief without restrict by what is deemed offensive.

Works Cited

Nowicki, Jenn. “Can Universities Restrict Free Speech On Campus?” Generation Progress. N.p., 15 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.

“State of the Law: Speech Codes.” FIRE. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.

Schools Teaching but Not Upholding First Amendment Rights

Topic: School Censorship

Essential Question: Does schools regulating and censoring students’ speech violate the freedom of speech limits to the First Amendment?

Under the First Amendment the government must respect citizens’ right to express themselves; however, under the school speech doctrine, student’s constitutional right to freedom of speech can be suppressed by school authorities. The school’s ability to put limitations on students’ freedom of speech has been challenged countlessly and from many different aspects on the issue such as illegal drug promotion, political speech, hate speech, and religious speech.   The countless cases of discontent with the suppression is due to the court’s inadequate guidelines determining whether schools’ policies violate the constitution.  Due to this, the majority of schools lack knowledge about their limitations to restrict  students’ freedom of speech and rather focus on implementing restrictions to maintain order, avoid controversy, and minimize criticism from the community over promoting students’ rights while creating regulations.  This leads to the primary question.  Should schools value avoiding controversy and disruption over promoting students to practice their constitutional right?

In the  Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier court case, Kuhlmeier argued that the school violated the First Amendment by not publishing an article discussing teen pregnancy.  Kuhlmeier’s argument did not hold up in court. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment rights of students in schools are not coextensive with the rights of adults outside of public schools and ultimately “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities, so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”  Since the article was written in a journalism class, apart of the school’s curriculum, the principal was able to deny publication with the reasoning that the pregnant students might have been able to be identified and would have later caused controversy and harm to those students.  The article also discussed sexual activities and birth control, which the principle deemed as inappropriate for the younger kids who attended that school.  Ultimately, by restricting students’ freedom of speech, in this case, allowed the community to avoid controversy and protect the well being and safety of other students at school.

On the other hand, the court case of Zachary Guiles rejected the school’s authorities to restrict Zachary’s First Amendment right to express his political views on a shirt despite the presence of alcohol and illegal drugs on his shirt.  Since the shirt was not encouraging the use of illegal drugs nor alcohol, which is prohibited in schools, but rather using them to convey, in Zachary’s opinion, the inadequacy and stupidity of the president, in the end, the school could not restrict Zachary from wearing the shirt at school because schools do not hold the right to censor political views of students if there is no disruption in the education process.  Since Zachary had wore this shirt many times before without any disruption and the only concern regarding the shirt were the drugs portrayed, the court could not ban his shirt from schools.  This ruling allowed for students to be able to practice their First Amendment right by promoting them to express their views politically.

Ultimately, I believe that schools should minimize their authority to restrict student’s First Amendment rights to better prepare them for the real world.  Schools should only use their power to avoid evident disruption in the classroom and harm such as bullying, encouraging of unsafe practices, and abusive speech.  Schools should encourage a safe environment where students are able to express their views regardless of the popular belief and use it to promote a better society in and out of the classroom by provoking thoughtful and open-minded conversations between students.

 

Burning a Flag or Utilizing a Right?

 

Should burning the American Flag be considered symbolic speech, which therefore is protected by the First Amendment?

Burning the flag of the United States is a very controversial topic, but not enough light is shed on this important debate. An important question arises every so often questioning flag desecration and why it’s still legal, and time and time again it is answered with an unfortunate fact: It’s protected by the First Amendment (symbolic speech to be more specific). As of today, burning the flag is completely legal in accordance with free speech, and it’s important that others are free to express their right to speak out against the government. They say that it’s their way of protesting the government and that it’s just a piece of cloth, but this is where others misinterpret their actions. Most veterans support the passing of a constitutional amendment that allows Congress to ban the action of flag burning or desecration. They believe it is disrespecting them and what they fought and died for. However, some would make the case that it’s a slippery slope.

The idea of creating amendment to do something about this inappropriate action is nothing new. Before the Texas v. Johnson case of 1989 which made flag burning legal under the First Amendment, forty-eight out of the fifty states had installed flag protection laws similar to the Flag Protection Act passed by Congress in 1968. A 5-4 decision in the Texas v. Johnson case declared the Flag Protection Act an unconstitutional restriction of public expression. Again in 1990, the discussion was brought up in the cases of United States v. Eichman and United States v. Haggerty (argued together), and again it struck down the Flag Protection Act in a 5-4 decision, similar to the Texas v. Johnson case.

Each case in relation to flag burning proves that there is support for creating an amendment to ban the burning of the American flag. President Trump has stated in a tweet that there should be punishments for burning the flag. Though I agree that there should be some form of penalty, his terms are far too extreme. A moderate fine would be an acceptable form of punishment, but first comes the task of making the action illegal. As long as flag desecration is considered symbolic speech, it is protected under the First Amendment. However, if the action is done in the face of others such as former military members, it could be considered incitement and therefore the offender will face a penalty. In the end, this conflict is an internal struggle within the public. Even though some may not like it, it’s important to respect the rights of others. Nevertheless, the barrier between breaking the law and exercising your constitutional right is exceedingly fragile, ergo it’s important to distinguish between the two.

 

Works Cited:

Mauro, Tony. &quot;Burning the Flag: A Right Or a Wrong?&quot;<i> USA TODAY</i>, 26 May 1998, pp. 1A-2A.<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com&#8221; target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a&gt;.

 

Hey, Robert P. &quot;Push Persists to Protect Stars and Stripes.&quot;<i> Christian Science Monitor</i>, 19 Jul 2001,<i> SIRS Issues Researcher</i>, <a href=”http://sks.sirs.com&#8221; target=”_blank”>http://sks.sirs.com</a&gt;.

 

“Facts And Case Summary – Texas V. Johnson”. United States Courts. N. p., 2017. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Tags: Symbolic Speech, First Amendment, Supreme Court, Flag Desecration, Incitement, President Trump

 

Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

As of today, the First Amendment does not contain an exception for hate speech, meaning it is allowed and even protected under freedom of speech.  There is a limit to speech considered “fighting words,” or threats, but hate speech is not included because the First Amendment considers it to be merely an expression of opinion.  Many people believe that our Constitution should be altered to limit hate speech due to its potentially detrimental effects on the victims; however as of right now, any citizen has the right to express their hate as long as it doesn’t put others in danger.

One of the most recent cases involving hate speech is Phelps vs. Snyder, when Westboro Baptist Church protested at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who had died in Iraq. The church strongly believes that God punishes the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, especially within the military, so they often protest at military funerals with signs with phrases like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates Fags.”  Matthew’s father, Albert Snyder, testified against the church with the claim that he is unable to separate the thoughts of his son’s death with the thoughts of the hateful protest, often getting physically ill just thinking about it.  After much consideration, the Supreme Court sided with the church on the premise that their protest is a matter of public concern expressed on public property, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.  Similarly, the members of the church have the right to communicate their ideas just as we all do.  

Although this is technically correct, many people still regard their protests as an act of lawlessness, and think the Westboro Baptist Church and its members should have taken responsibility for the repercussions on the Snyder family.  I think the Constitution should put some type of limitation on hate speech. Clearly not all of it can be restricted, as it would infringe on our citizens’ rights to expression, but I do believe some structure should be put in place. For example, with Albert Snyder and his physical disturbance caused by the protests.  Although legal, these assertions have caused pain for many people, and should therefore be outlawed under the First Amendment.

 

Works Cited:

 

Liptak, Adam. “Funeral Picketing Is Free Speech, Court Rules”. Nytimes.com. N. p., 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

 

Volokh, Eugene. “No, There’S No “Hate Speech” Exception To The First Amendment”. Washington Post. N. p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.