Careful, You Might Offend a Bigot

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Looks like there's no shortage of school officials who could stand to be reacquainted with Tinker v. Des Moines. A high school senior in Missouri was sent home for wearing gay pride T-Shirts (one of which was, as it happens, the shirt produced by his previous high school's gay-straight alliance), which officials apparently feared might "offend" someone. The student, Brad Mathewson, notes that he finds some of the anti—gay marriage stickers common on cars in the school parking lot offensive, but had never imagined this gave him a right to censor them. One always wonders what those who imagine there's a "controversy" or "offense" exception to the First Amendment imagine it was intended for. When else would you ever need to invoke a free speech right? To protect speech everyone approved of?

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  1. Quoth Justice Abe Fortas:

    “Freedom of expression would not truly exist if the right could be exercised only in an area that a benevolent government has provided as a safe haven for crackpots. The Constitution says that Congress (and the States) may not abridge the right to free speech. This provision means what it says.”

    OK, slightly off topic, but if “Congress… may not abridge the right to free speech,” why is McCain-Feingold CFR still allowed to stand?

    Seems like there’s a lot of picking and choosing about what is and isn’t in the Constitution these days.

    Brad Mathewson shouldn’t necessarily count on the current SCOTUS to bail him out.

    I hope the glory days of freedom in the US aren’t behind us.

  2. As I’m sure others will point out, there have been not-so-glorious days of (non-)freedom in America’s past (think McCarthyism), but I agree with the gist of what you’re saying and I’m not too confident at the moment.

    People like to think there is a difference between the right and the left, between Repubs and Dems, but they both want power to be concentrated into a few hands who “know what’s best for you”.

    The left doesn’t want you to offend anyone and demands wealth redistribution so that a few bad apples can ride on the coattails of success (and I’m not entirely against charity or welfare in certain circumstances, before anyone jumps all over me and calls me heartless).

    The right doesn’t want you to be able to determine what to put in your body or many of your other behaviours that shouldn’t be anybody else’s business. And both sides seem to have gotten together at some level to try and make their desires a reality.

    Scary.

  3. kmw,

    Because “Free Speech” was never absolute. SCOTUS equates laws that prevent corruption with laws that protect public safety (FIRE! in a theater). They then defer judgement to Congress as to how to properly draft a law that prevents corruption. I fervently disagree with this approach, but that’s what it is for now.

  4. I think the kid’s message was perfectly fine, but there’s no such thing as free speech in school.

  5. Mike,

    All relevant case law would disagree. In a public school, there is very much a such thing as free speech. It doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want whenever you want, but it does mean any restrictions have to be “content nuetral.”

  6. While it’s tempting to laugh off the First Amendment revisionism that tends to characterize the academic/scholastic experience, I fear the damage has already been done.

    Writing for my college newspaper back in the early 90’s, I can’t count how many times a student or campus group informed us that the “First Amendment” didn’t “give us” the right to run a [factual] article that was deemed offensive.

    Since that time, I continue to receive e-mails with this same theme—particularly when I’ve written articles criticizing either Marxism or 12-Step Recovery methods).

    While I like to be optimistic, I fear that a vast segment of the reading public has been led to believe that the FA is a negotiable concept capable of being curtailed at the whim of every two-bit Stalinist who feels “offended”…

  7. Isn’t this kid getting beat up enough in school, already?
    Is it really neccesary to wear a gay pride shirt?

  8. That’s a great argument Overlord, let’s allow thugs to abridge everyone’s freedom of speech.

  9. Yeah, Overlord, because a gay person must not be physically imposing enough to defend himself.

    His willingness to stand out, and stand up for his rights, certainly indicates to me that he’s been beaten into submission.

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