The ideal of free speech has never been free. Since the ratification of the First Amendment guaranteeing our right to freedom of expression, there have been challenges to its application. Today’s generation termed, Generation Z, is transforming education from content to process driven, from knowledge input, to analysis and implementation. Due primarily to the expanded public forum of social media (Education – Generation Z. 2013). Therefore, public high school students require the full plethora of free speech benefits to learn and foster meaningful rhetorical education. Students today are tomorrows’ leaders, to hinder student speech is to stifle social and political knowledge. Change is necessary, look at the events at Dixie State University where that the majority of college students accepted the infringement of their right to dissent. The marketplace of ideas requires students to have a full airing of all opinions.
High school students throughout the public sector do not possess unlimited First Amendment rights (Hudson, D. L., Jr. 2002). As the Supreme Court has said, minors do not possess the same level of constitutional rights as adults. Since the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April of 1999, student expression has been increasingly stultified. Public dissent was stifled at Richland High School when the school principal publically reprimanded senior Rebecca Young in August 2015, for wearing a shirt that read “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It” (Esseks, J. 2015). The school principal prohibited any clothing expressing support for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transsexual (LGBT) community. Subsequently, a federal court injunction was awarded permitting Rebecca Young the free speech right to express her political views (Young v. Giles County. Bd. of Educ., 2015). In Christiansburg, Virginia, at the Christiansburg High School (CHS),17 high school students were given out-of-school suspensions for failing to remove Confederate flag attire that school officials deemed were offensive. According to Houston Miller, a senior at CHS, “We just wanted to get our point across that nobody here is racist. Moreover, we’re trying to get that in our school. They banned one flag so we think they should ban all.” The danger of this type of suppression lies in the doctrine of prior restraint. Prior restraint doctrine ascribes to the idea that an individual would feel constrained from freely expressing themselves due to the social or legal restrictions imposed on others. Therefore, other students would feel constrained from expressing their views and opinions. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall eloquently opined, “Above all else, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” (Stevens, J. (1992-1993).
College students are not exempt to speech suppression either. At Dixie State University, three students were prohibited from distributing a flyer which criticized former President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, because they disparaged individuals in violation of university policy. Highlighted on John Stossel’s, television special “Censorship in America,” the students sued in the Utah U.S. District Court and prevailed with a stipulated agreement. The University agreed to revise its policies permanently. Most college students have reached the age of majority and receive the full scope of First Amendment rights. They are deemed of age and capable of fighting wars; college students must be able to exercise sufficient maturity and judgment to formulate independent opinions. However, citizenship requires responsible speech and actions of all of us. Every right and benefit bestowed, upon society comes with responsibilities, and malicious speech can have devastating effects.
The research definition for bullying victimization is “unwanted, intentional, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance that is often repeated over time or has the probability of occurring again” (Espelage, D. L. 2014). In the article, It’s Not Just Teasing, (Saltzman, A. 1993, at 73.) a six-year-old, child was subjected to lewd, obscene, and profane harassment by her fellow students on her school bus which resulted in creating psychological and emotional suffering. The consequences were dire for 17-year-old Michael J. Berry, who had been subjected to cyber-bullying and sexual harassment before he committed suicide on September 16, 2008, at Mira Loma High School, in Carmichael, California (Jani, S. 2015). These are just two of many harms caused by a peer-to-peer speech in its various forms. Harassing and hate speech prohibitions are a necessary component of the regulatory structure of public schools. School administrators face a challenge regarding speech; speech restrictions which are guided by a trio of Supreme Court cases with which officials must comply such as (1) vulgar, lewd, obscene, and plainly offensive speech, (2) school-sponsored speech, and (3) speech that falls into neither of these categories. The standard for reviewing the suppression of vulgar, lewd, obscene, and plainly offensive speech is governed by, Bethel School District v. Fraser, 1986, school-sponsored speech by, Hazelwood School. District. v. Kuhlmeier, 1988, and all other speech by, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969. The Supreme Court has yet to review a case specifically regarding non-threatening harassment prohibitions in public schools.
The correlation between freedom of expression and progress is explicit. Historically, science was considered blasphemy by the public. Moreover, without science life would not exist as we know it today. All terms of expression must be tolerated in the public forum. While order in public schools is necessary to accommodate an efficient learning environment, the risk of suppression of thoughts and ideas does not justify the restrictions. Schools must permit any form of speech presented in an orderly manner and debate the idea or concept presented. In this manner, deplorable or specious expressions will be exposed. The presentation of all ideas will foster education and without free-speech, women would not be able to vote, racial, and sexual minorities would remain suppressed, and society would be poorer for it. A society open to challenging opinions will gain tolerance and greater liberty. The marketplace of ideas requires students to have a full airing of all opinions.
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Sexual Violence. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from Espelage, D. L. 2014). Using NCES Surveys to Understand School Violence and Bullying, 9-10. Retrieved January 26, 2016, http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/sexualviolence/.
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Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733, 21 L. Ed. 2d 731, 1969 U.S. LEXIS 2443, 49 Ohio Op. 2d 222 (U.S. 1969)
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