Tag Archives: Protected Speech

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

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Disruptions in Class

School is a place where students are free to express themselves, yet where is the line drawn when it comes to wearing hateful or controversial items? The public school’s dress code falls under the freedom of speech section of the First Amendment. Students are guaranteed the right to freely express themselves, unless the item of clothing is a distraction to other students or causes a disruption in class. Problems with clothing might arise with controversial topics such as political, social, cultural, etc. Higher enforcements may be involved if a school’s peaceful environment is interrupted.

One of the most famous cases where the United States Supreme Court became involved was the Tinker V Des Moines case. In this case, students expressed themselves by wearing a black armband to protest the war and were suspended. At first the US District Court ruled with the school, but then the case went to the United States Supreme Court, where they ruled in favor of the students. Each case may be different and it is important not to base each one off of the Tinker V Des Moines Case. Another occasion where a higher official was involved was in the case of Castorina es rel. Rewt v. Madison County School Board. Two high school students wore a shirt with the Confederate Flag on it to school, and were suspended for not following the dress code. The case ended up going to the federal district court and then to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges found the case to be very similar to Tinker V Des Moines, however in this instance they ruled that there was, “the appearance of a targeted ban”, and it was sent back down to the lower court. Although many times the case of Tinker V Des Moines is referred to as a classic example, it is important to realize that there may be uncertainty with each situation, therefore every incident must be handled differently.

The Confederate Flag: A Symbol of the Past or Present in Schools?

The Civil War ended 150 years ago, however the issue of the Confederate flag has not disappeared with the war. The Confederacy is well alive in not only history textbooks, but on clothing, and flags. This brings up the big question; Can public schools ban the Confederate flag on their campuses? Does banning the Confederate flag violate the First Amendment? First to argue against the issue was Christiansburg High School in Virginia. A group of students began a demonstration when a student was punished for wearing a t-shirt with the Confederate flag on it. The students disagreed with the punishment, so they protested.  The Washington Post described the incident as a “peaceful student demonstration”. Those students who protested ended up getting suspended. The First Amendment includes Peaceable Assemblies, meaning that the people must be allowed to meet, protest, and march. The students at Christiansburg High School did just that, and did not show any harm to any persons nearby. One might say their t-shirts and flags are protected by Freedom of Speech, which explains how citizens are allowed to express themselves. But are there limits? Do those rights stop when students enter the school grounds?

In another case at Lakeside Middle School, a student showed up to school wearing a jacket with a Confederate flag on it. He was asked to remove the jacket, and when he refused, was suspended multiple times. The student ended up taking the case to court. Judge William B. Traxler Jr. ruled for the school district, basing his decision on three U.S. Supreme Court decisions: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969, Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser in 1986, and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier in 1988. Tinker v. Des Moines, and Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser ruled student’s rights are not as flexible as adult’s rights would be in other settings. Lastly, in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier it was ruled that school administrators can’t punish students because they don’t agree with their expression, but they can if it is disrupting the school or people in the school.

The issue of the Confederate flags in public schools is it’s a very grey area. There are lots of technicalities that go along with the issue; the history of the school’s racial problems, violence, disruption and so on. It depends on the school and the students inside of it. Students are backed with the First Amendment to some extent, but there are limits in a school zone. Although, the school itself has to think about protecting other students in the school, as long as no person or their rights are harmed; if a student wishes to wear a t-shirt with the Confederate flag, they should be allowed to. The First Amendment protects them under Freedom of Speech, Peaceable Assembly and Symbolic Speech. If there were to be a clear obscenity, fighting words, or danger of other students, that student would not have their rights protected and would have to follow what the school says. In conclusion, students should be allowed to wear the Confederate flag in schools, as long as it isn’t disrupting the school or students in anyway or bringing up bad history that the school has.