Op/Editorials 3/25/11

Protests can be limited

By Angelina Folchi

Protesting has been a huge topic of debate these past few weeks, from local to national. It’s had many people wondering exactly what the Constitution and First Amendment protect and what can be deemed illegal. 

Anti-gay picketers from Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas have attended hundreds of military funerals in the past few years, holding signs that read “You’re Going to Hell” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” The churchgoers believe that God is punishing Americans for supporting homosexuality and gay marriage. Soldier Matthew Snyder died in Iraq in 2006, and the picketers attended his funeral in Maryland. Oddly enough, Snyder wasn’t gay. The picketers decided to use his funeral to shout hurtful things about people in the military. Snyder’s father decided to file a civil lawsuit against the church five years ago, because he felt the protestors’ actions weren’t protected under the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court finally came to a near unanimous decision on March 2, declaring Westboro’s activities constitutional. It decided that the protesters were on public property, they were peaceful and they followed the rules, so therefore they were legal. Chief Justice John Roberts said, “As a nation we have chosen…to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

When LHS juniors and seniors traveled to Sacramento to visit the state Capitol, they were surprised to see and hear a large group of University of California students protesting proposed budget cuts to higher education and fee hikes for college students.

The protesting debate also hit home, since some LHS students protested a student’s expulsion two weeks ago. Many are left wondering what exactly is legal to protest in a school setting. According to the Supreme Court case Tinker vs. Des Moines (1969), students do not “shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door.” Granted, there are some limits as to what students can say and do at school, because minors don’t necessarily have the same rights as adults when they are in a school setting.

The Latin phrase in loco parentis is commonly used, which means that while a student is in custody of the school, the school can and should act as a parent. However, if students are peacefully expressing an opinion, the school doesn’t necessarily have the right to stop them. The Court case Tinker is a great example, as a group of students wore black armbands to school protesting the Vietnam War. The Court ruled that they shouldn’t be stopped, because the students merely wore black armbands and did not interfere with school activities in any way. The Court pronounced that student speech could only be prohibited if administrators could prove that it was disrupting the school’s educational mission. The principle goal of a school is to educate, so it has the right to put a stop to anything that inhibits this.

As always, there are exceptions to that rule. No matter how peaceful students are, if they are endorsing something in a school newspaper or at a school event that the school clearly prohibits, such as drugs or alcohol, administrators have the right to make them stop. In the Supreme Court case Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier (1988), the Court ruled that administrators of a school have the right to censor what is printed in the school newspaper when they can justify their decision by stating an educational purpose. If any students’ actions at school disrupt their own or another student’s learning in any way, their activities will most likely be suppressed.

Using school time and resources to make protest signs is considered illicit, because that is hindering their time for learning at school. Principal Marla Stock confirmed this information by stating, “Freedom of speech is okay as long as it isn’t hurtful or disruptive to normal school activities” and “it isn’t okay to use school equipment, supplies or materials to create protest paraphernalia.”


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