Free speech, free press, freaky deaky

Testing, one, two, three.

Is this thing on? This thing called freedom of speech? This thing that's constitutionally guaranteed in this country?

Is it on or not? Does it hold or not? Can we speak our minds or not?

Can we criticize our lawmakers without fear? Can we criticize our laws without being arrested? Can we hoot at silly policies? Can we make big fun of Senator Hillary's hair, clothes, ideas and husband? Can we make fun of Governor Arnie's accent and porn flicks? Can we Photoshop a clown face onto a picture of our president? Can we draw devil horns on Cheney's face in a magazine? Can we burn effigies? Can we publish political cartoons? Even if they're offensive? Even if they go against the grain? Even if I'm just being a shit disturber on my way out of high school? What if it makes somebody mad? What if it embarrasses them?

Can we jeer at symbols?

Can we burn a picture of a U.S. flag if we differ with U.S. policies or authority in general? How about a tiny toothpick flag? How about a flag napkin? Flag paper plate? Flag toilet paper? Can we blow our noses on flag tissues? Can we burn those? Yes? How about the actual flag? No? Not even as an expression of our feelings? Can I wear a flag t-shirt or flag flip-flops? Can I wear a flag pin? Where do we draw the line? Who gets to draw the line? My neighbor? My principal? A police officer? A bag lady? A lynch mob? Who will say I'm wrong, and who will punish me, here in the land of the free? Will they be wearing jackboots?

What happens if I test this free-speech theory? I know who will stand up for the flag. It's easy to stand up for the flag. Who will stand up for me? Who will stand up for absolutes?

My neighbors? My teachers? My principal? My friends? My town? My editor, publisher, student press adviser?

We who teach our students about absolute constitutional freedoms such as free expression and a free press, and then punish them for exercising those rights, are big, fat hypocrites.

In killing the student newspaper because of its content, the message of Shasta High School to its students, parents, faculty and community was this: Speech is free only when it's comfortable. If anyone feels uncomfortable -- your boss, co-worker, crazy neighbor, principal, parent, preacher, president -- you will not say it or do it. We will make an example of you. You'll be pointed out, ridiculed and abandoned. Your friends will be made to suffer, too, so that they will turn against you. This is the real world, buster, and you better learn to live in it. The phones are ringing off the hook. By durn, we're tired of taking the heat. We're shutting the kitchen.

Check, check. Is this thing on?


  1. I respect your position. The Volcano should not have been shafted for publishing what they published.

    However, we have to remember that the first five words of the First Amendment of the Constitution are...

    "CONGRESS shall pass no law..."

    What the school did was perfectly in line with the constitutional part of Free Speech. It was just rude.

    If Congress wanted to outlaw the paper, then it would be a constitutional issue.

  2. It was not only rude, it was an ironic violation of the school district's own mission statement:

    "The mission of the Shasta Union High SchoolDistrict is to provide courses of study that challenge all students and encourage them to reach their social, physical and academic potential. Instruction will prepare students for a global society by focusing on career goals and incorporating appropriate technologies. The District will provide a safe environment that stresses tolerance towards diverse cultures, beliefs and lifestyles. Character education and civic responsibility will also be an important part of the curriculum."

    Pulling the plug on the paper was not a very tolerant move on the adminstration's part. And it's a chilling lesson to future journalism students at this tax-payer funded school

  3. Hey, junior lawyer, have you learned about incorporation yet?

    And have you learned about California Education Code Section 48907?

  4. Freedom to express one's opinion is not something to be put into compartments saying this one is important and that one is not. The responsibility to protect those rights belongs to each and every one of us. Whether in the context of a school newspaper or the floor of Congress.

  5. Rocky, you're right about that, and I respect your position, too.

    What the school did was perfectly legal.

    I was speaking to our moral imperative to enforce not just the letter but also the spirit of the law. To stick to the principle even when it's difficult -- especially when it's difficult. Otherwise the principle is rendered hollow and meaningless.

    To fail to support the students and the newspaper's right to publish the image, however distasteful or wrongheaded, was childish.

    It was legal, but it was wrong.

  6. California Student Free Expression Law

    Citation: Cal. Educ. Code Sec. 48907

    February 22, 1977

    Summary: In addition to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states can also provide free speech protection to their own citizens by enacting state laws or regulations. The California Student Free Expression Law is such a provision and provides student journalists attending California public high schools with added protection against administrative censorship.

    Section 48907 - Student exercise of free expression.

    Students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press including, but not limited to, the use of bulletin boards, the distribution of printed materials or petitions, the wearing of buttons, badges, and other insignia, and the right of expression in official publications, whether or not such publications or other means of expression are supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities, except that expression shall be prohibited which is obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Also prohibited shall be material which so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.

    Each governing board of a school district and each county board of education shall adopt rules and regulations in the form of a written publications code, which shall include reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of conducting such activities within its respective jurisdiction.

    Student editors of official school publications shall be responsible for assigning and editing the news, editorial, and feature content of their publications subject to the limitations of this section. However, it shall be the responsibility of a journalism adviser or advisers of student publications within each school to supervise the production of the student staff, to maintain professional standards of English and journalism, and to maintain the provisions of this section.

    There shall be no prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications except insofar as it violates this section. School officials shall have the burden of showing justification without undue delay prior to any limitation of student expression under this section.

    "Official school publications" refers to materials produced by students in the journalism, newspaper, yearbook, or writing classes and distributed to the student body either free or for a fee.

    Nothing in this section shall prohibit or prevent any governing board of a school district from adopting otherwise valid rules and regulations relating to oral communication by students upon the premises of each school.

  7. I'm sure you've seen Rob's story on the RS site now, saying that Mike Stuart has given the go-ahead for the Volcano to run again next year.

    Good job to new editor-in-chief Amanda Cope for sticking up for herself and staff! She deserves a chance to create a great paper.

  8. Check, check, apparently this thing IS on.

    What great news that Shasta High journalism students and their Volcano will have a second chance.

  9. Michelle, thanks for the heads-up. As you wrote, I was interviewing the incredible Amanda Cope and her family. What a treat! Journalism is lucky to have her.

  10. Not that I would know, but there MAY be a really clever cartoon on Sunday's Opinion page on the topic being discussed.

  11. Thanks so much Kelly for expressing what I couldn't seem to get out. I feel very strongly about the right to freedom of expression.
    We may not have liked what the past editor of the Volcano did and considered in churlish, but he should have the freedom to express his opinions, no matter who might disagree. He's the one that will have to live by his opinions.