FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION (US SUPREME COURT)
The case arose in 1983 when the principal of
When editors Cathy Kuhlmeier and Leslie Smart went to court on grounds that their First Amendment rights had been violated, the district court upheld the school, but the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled for the students. Then the US Supreme Court, by 5-3, declared that the principal had a "valid educational purpose" for censoring the paper. The opinion written by Justice White maintained that "A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school...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."
In its decision, the Supreme Court majority stated that it is not overturning its "Tinker standard." Individual students still have the right to express their personal views on school premises. But, the court said, school officials do have the authority to regulate "school-sponsored publications, theatrical productions, and other expressive activities that students, parents, and members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school. These activities may fairly be characterized as part of the school curriculum, whether or not they occur in a traditional classroom setting, so long as they are supervised by faculty members and designed to impart particular knowledge or skills to student participants and audiences."
In his dissent, Justice William Brennan did not buy the argument that there should be a difference between individual student expression protected by the Tinker standard and "school-sponsored expression." Calling the principal's action a case of "brutal censorship," he declared, "Censorship...in no way furthers the curricular purposes of a student newspaper, unless one believes that the purpose of the school newspaper is to teach students that the press ought never report bad news, express unpopular views, or print a thought that might upset its sponsors...The Court opens its analysis in this case by purporting to reaffirm Tinker's time-tested proposition that public-school students 'do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.' That is an ironic introduction to an opinion that denudes high-school students of much of the First Amendment protection that Tinker itself prescribed. Instead of 'teach(ing) children to respect the diversity of ideas that is fundamental to the American system,' and 'that our Constitution is a living reality, not parchment preserved under glass,' the Court today 'teach(es) youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.' The young men and women of Hazelwood East expected a civics lesson, but not the one the Court teaches them today."
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in 2009 that school officials in Farmington High School were justified in suspending students who wore Confederate flag clothing in violation of school policy. In 1995 the school adopted a policy prohibiting "dress that materially disrupts the educational environment." Confederate flags and symbols were specifically barred in 2005 after several racially-charged incidents aimed at the small number of Black students. The court upheld the district court ruling which said that school officials had not violated the First Amendment "because they had reason to believe that students displaying the Confederate flag would cause a substantial and material disruption."
(The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has jurisdiction in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota as well as Missouri.)
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ON THE INTERNET
A federal district court has denied the request of the Hannibal Public School District that it dismiss a student's claims that his First Amendment rights had been violated. The court said the school failed to prove that the emails the student sent to a friend from off campus contained "true threats" which were not protected by the First Amendment. After hearing about the emails, school authorities had suspended the student for 10 days.
In 2007, a federal judge ruled in favor of Farmington High School officials who prevented students from wearing clothing featuring a confederate flag. The judge stated that the clothing could be banned because of racially motivated incidents at the school.