First Amendment

Georgia High School Students Expelled for Racist TikTok Video Had Their Free Speech Rights Violated

The video was appalling, but it does not constitute a safety threat.

|

A Georgia high school expelled two students for making a racist video on the social media site TikTok.

"They are no longer students at Carrollton High School," said District Superintendent Mark Albertus in a statement.

The video is highly offensive, and the two students responsible for it—a teenage boy and girl—exercised exceedingly poor judgment. But in punishing them so severely for conduct that took place entirely outside of school, Carrollton education officials have exercised poor judgment as well.

In the video, the two students place a piece of paper that reads "niggers" in the bathroom sink and proceed to fill it with cups of water representing "don't have a dad," "rob people," and other racist tropes. The pair made no effort to hide their identities, and their names are publicly associated with the video, which quickly went viral. TikTok eventually deleted it.

According to Insider, the girl offered an extremely weak apology "to any blacks that got offended," placed the blame on her boyfriend, and asked her critics to stop trying to get her "cancelled." No doubt, the video will be associated with their names for a long time, severely harming their college and job prospects, perhaps deservedly.

In any case, the school's handling of the incident is troubling. Indeed, school officials probably violated the First Amendment, though court decisions have limited the free speech rights of K-12 students so egregiously that the matter is not completely clear.

Keep in mind that the video was filmed at a home—not on school property or during school hours. It didn't name or threaten any specific individuals associated with the school. And it did not advocate or involve illegal behavior. Racists statements, loathsome though they are, qualify as protected speech in most cases.

These are all important considerations, because courts have generally limited students' free speech rights only when necessary to prevent substantial interference with a school's educational functioning. The landmark 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines held that action taken by schools to punish speech must be "caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint."

Subsequent rulings have been less favorable to K-12 students' free speech rights. In the well-known "bong hits for Jesus" case, Frederick v. Morse (2007), the Supreme Court upheld a school's decision to censor students whose speech was construed as promoting illegal drug use at a school function. A more recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Bell v. Itawamba County Board (2012), sided against a student whose offensive speech was directed at a school employee.

In a statement, Carrollton officials acknowledged that the racist speech took place outside of school but nevertheless asserted that they had the authority to punish the students for it.

CHS Principal David Brooks, who began investigating the incident Thursday night after the release of the video, said even if the offending incident was recorded after-school hours, it doesn't alleviate the students' responsibility to uphold a high standard of behavior.

"It is our priority to keep our schools safe, and there is no doubt this incident has caused significant tension at Carrollton High School, across the district, state and nation – even the world," he said.

It seems like a stretch to argue that the racist video was a safety matter—again, it did not threaten violence or name a specific individual. It may have caused tension, but that is a thin rationale for giving education officials virtually unlimited power to punish any action that upsets someone at school.

I don't know if a civil liberties group would have any interest in taking this case given how deeply unsympathetic its subjects are, but it strikes me as worth it, if only for the sake of defending even minimal free speech rights for school-aged young people.

Advertisement

NEXT: Bureau of Prisons Reverses Coronavirus Home Confinement Policy

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. What you really want in life, when you come across ignorant assholes, is to make sure they remain ignorant assholes, AMIRIGHT?

    1. Are you somehow implying that were these two glorious representatives of our fine educational establishment allowed to remain in school for a few more weeks to complete their thirteen years of residency they might somehow cease to be ignorant assholes?

      1. Facebook is paying $530 Per day. Be a part of Facebook and start getting Extra Dollars every week from your home.Vcx ..I just got paid $8590 in my previous month……….,Visit Site

        1. Facebook doesn’t pay me shit.

    2. Actually, I think he should be fired from his job as principal.

      Or did you mean the other two?

    3. Better yet. Have a double standard to rub it in their ignorant faces. Wasn’t a black security guard fired for using the “n-word”, then rehired after the outcry by liberals on Twitter. I guess some people are less racist than others.

    4. Look, it’s not his job to educate them.

      1. “Bong Hits for Jesus” established a VERY important legal ruling, which is ??? (correct me if I am wrong) that Jesus would NEVER EVER have said ANYTHING that implied that mere IN-DUH-VIDUALS were entitled to decode for themselves, WHAT is it that belongs to the State (AKA Ceasar), and WHAT is it that belongs to God (AKA your conscience)? Only Government Almighty can decide that!!! That’s what Jesus said, and THAT is what the SCROTUS said that Jesus said, dammit!!! WHO are we to question WHAT it was, that the SCROTUS said that Jesus said?!?! (Ye Fools ye!!!)

        So anyway, “Cheap Plastic Lung Flutes Hits for Jesus” will be the NEXT major question of the day! PRAY with me now, that Government Almighty and the SCROTUS will see fit, to PROTECT us from foolish, unprescribed, medically ignorant deployments and uses of these DANGEROUS medical implements of destruction, known as lung flutes!

        In these days of mortal danger, STAY SAFE from the flute police!

        To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

        1. Right but you told us you want to eat shit.

          1. Right but you told us that your yeast-secretions from your twat are going to inundate the world! Worse than global warming, it is!

            Before it is too late!!! Read and heed!

            https://www.everydayhealth.com/yeast-infection/guide/treatment/
            What’s the Best Treatment for a Yeast Infection?
            By Joseph Bennington-CastroMedically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
            Last Updated: 5/21/2018
            There are dozens of treatments for vaginal yeast infections. Which one is right for you?

    5. Good and Qulitiy Content on Education MDU Rohtak .

    6. Both free speech and academic freedom are limited by hate speech/crime.
      Their school has the right to exclude any students whom may be damaging to their reputation/puts other students at risk.
      They’re old enough to know right from wrong despite that they willingly posted the video onto social media.

      1. “Their school has the right to exclude any students whom may be damaging to their reputation/puts other students at risk.”

        No it doesn’t have that right. It is a public school and legally must take students. A school can expel students for certain actions, but generally those actions need to be in some way associated with the school. The students were engaged in their Constitutionally protected Free Speech rights. The school may not legally expel them.

      2. No, there’s no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. I’m sorry that someone lied to you, but it doesn’t exist. And I don’t know what you mean by “crime,” but their act isn’t a crime, it’s not facilitating a crime, and the video isn’t advocacy directed to inciting limiting lawless action that is likely to occur.

  2. “Racists statements, loathsome though they are, qualify as protected speech in most cases.”

    According to Reason contributor Noah Berlatsky, we should rethink that standard.

    #BringBackBerlatsky

    1. I like the part where they claim “negative stereotypes affect African-American self-perception, and can lead to lower test scores,” cite an APA website that fails to link to any of the recent replication attempts, and ignores the evidence that stereotype threat was massively oversold and keeps getting its ass kicked in replication attempts.

  3. Soave is so easily appalled, yet so fair and balanced. He really loves to show the world his sensitive side. What the hell — he’s all sensitive side.

    1. As long as Brian Stelter is at CNN, Robby is all hard core man.

      1. How is a bald putz like Brian Stelter on TV to begin with? At least Fox News has attractive teleprompter readers.

  4. That’s the thing about defending free speech – you’re always going to find yourself defending offensive speech because nobody’s offended by inoffensive speech, they’re only offended by offensive speech. It’s almost as if that’s the way offensive speech and offendedness work.

    1. I will defend puppy videos to the death.

    2. nobody’s offended by inoffensive speech

      What an offensive statement. It’s more of a blatant aggression than a mere microagression.

    3. To hell with free speech! Crucify them to set an example!
      Their blood shall be upon me and my children!

      1. I approve of this obviously sarcastic remark! So crucify me, too!

        (Long live free speech, even if it is offensive… The proper, proportionate response to bad and evil speech, is better, more tolerant, more benevolent speech! No sticks and stones returned for mere words! Let’s be better than the assholes! Pens and keyboards will triumph over swords and machine guns!

        1. Right but you told us you want to eat shit.

          1. Right but everyone knows that you’re lower (more worthless and parasitical) than an intestinal tapeworm!

      2. I see what you did there.

    4. The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

      — H.L. Mencken

  5. According to Insider, the girl offered an extremely weak apology “to any blacks that got offended,” placed the blame on her boyfriend,

    The patriarchy made her do it.

    1. It is at least supposed to be a free country. She can believe anything she wants and owes no on an apology for it. The fact that Soave thinks whether she apologized or not is even relevant to this discussion shows he really doesn’t understand what free speech actually means.

      1. I love seeing the racist come out. You sing a different tune about black lives matter, and police violence.

        1. No I don’t. They can believe and say whatever they like. I am free to call them out for it if I don’t like it. But, they should not be kicked out of school for expressing an opinion.

          You don’t love anything. You just think everyone is as unprincipled and stupid as you are. Sadly and for you and fortunately for the world, some people are not. Some people actually do think rationally and apply their beliefs consistently. I am sorry you are such a garbage human being you are unable to do that. I really am. It must be terrible to go through life as stupid and unprincipled as you appear to be and worse to assume everyone else is the same way.

    2. The description makes it sound like performance art. She should’ve written ‘nigger’ on a mattress and carried it around.

      1. Carry that weight, Aunt Jemima!

  6. Considering how many on the left use “white” as a pejorative, yet go about their lives without getting punished for inflammatory rhetoric.

    But whatever, youth is stupid.

    1. Sorry you a bich, whyte boi.

  7. How are they any more deserving of the protections of freedom of speech than those who desecrate the American flag?

    1. The American flag is a sign of oppressive colonialism. That’s why it should be replaced with the red flag of the proletariat and the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ community.

    2. But enough about blue stripe cop lovers…

  8. “No doubt, the video will be associated with their names for a long time, severely harming their college and job prospects, perhaps deservedly.”

    Possibly, but it’s also possible that they will be going into a trade whose members don’t spend every waking second on social media

    1. Social media is awesome. It turns every dumb-ass act you do in your bathroom into a national story. Maybe even international.

      1. Intergalactic even

  9. Was alcohol “involved” in the making of this video, or were they just dumb?

    1. Disclaimer: Of course, it’s dumb either way.

      Disclaimer to the disclaimer: I don’t mean to make invidious generalizations about *all* dumb people.

      Disclaimer to the disclaimer to the disclaimer: By “dumb” I don’t mean Hellen Keller deaf and dumb, but dumb as in Dumb and Dumber.

    2. They were just dumb but with the power of the Internet and progressive thinking, they will never be free of their sin of racism. You can’t fault Jesus for destroying the money lenders’ tables and causing a ruckus but at least he gave people a way to absolve themselves of sin.

  10. “They are no longer students at Carrollton High School,”

    I thought only homeschoolers were crazy antisocial racists. What are they even teaching those kids?

    1. Mandatory sexual education didn’t start soon enough, preferably < 6 years old, to socialize those white trash assholes.

  11. That reminds me…sorry if this was already posted

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/dangerous-harvard-professor-calls-for-ban-on-homeschooling

    and to reiterate my last post, what are these public schools even for if they can’t do their one job of churning out lemmings who all think alike

    1. The State needs to protect children from their parents and their bad values. Why do you think Germany bans homeschooling? Children belong to the State!

    2. She’s an idiot.

      “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,”

      The government doesn’t have a right. It has an obligation.

      “The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous,”

      Yes, turn them over to the total authority of the school.

      “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

      Guarantee you she supports quarantines without reservation. Not for here, just for “those people”.

      1. Speaking of reservations, I guess Bartholet is a fan of the Indian schools, where young heathens could get the red learned out of them by official US gummint teachers.

  12. Any argument in favor of expelling the students fails when you realize something:

    The campus is closed due to COVID-19, and will be for the remainder of the school year.

    Normally you could make an argument about how having those students there could be disruptive to the other students. But this is not a normal situation. The other students will have no contact with the racists, whether or not they are expelled. They can post online videos whether or not they are expelled.

    1. Your rights end where Uncle Sam’s feelings begin, citizen.

    2. How else can I punish them extrajudicially?

  13. No doubt, the video will be associated with their names for a long time, severely harming their college and job prospects, perhaps deservedly.

    How old are they again?

    1. Old enough to be fucked for life.

  14. At least they ween’t arrested like the guy who wore a gorilla mask and handed out bananas to BLM protesters.

    CLEARED, BY AN ALL-WHITE JURY

    1. I don’t get it. Why was he arrested?

    2. Guy was racist, but you have to admit it was funny.

  15. “ Find these poor souls and educate them. They should be expelled and fired from their jobs.”

    Pick one!

    1. Sorry Bubba, thought crime is permanent and fatal. If you’re a good progressive, like Governor Coonman of Virginia, your moral lapses might be judged as temporary confusion instead of evidence of permanent damnation.

      1. Paradox to ponder. How can you simultaneously be a good progressive and have the name “Coonman?”

  16. This principal was extremely short-sighted. He could have had the school resource officer go to their homes and arrest them like a proper tyrant.

    What a maroon!

  17. Some words of advice
    1 Always wear a disguise like blackface or full Klan outfit
    2 Be a democrat

  18. My understanding is that schools have the right to remove students and staff whose presence or behavior cause a distraction to the institution’s mission. So for example if the video was likely to cause other students to choose sides, if it was likely to instigate violence or protests among students, that those are all legit reasons for punishment under the federal case law.

    1. Except that school is not in session due to the coronavirus and these kids are (or were) graduating seniors who won’t be back next year so the Heckler’s Veto doesn’t apply in this case. The principal just decided to apply some extra-judicial punishment and took it upon himself to amend the Constitution by inserting a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment as the lynch mob demanded. We’ll see what the Carrollton Police Department does in response to the lynch mob’s demands that this sort of hate speech be criminalized as well. I’m sure there’s a “disturbing the peace” citation in there somewhere they can attempt to appease the mob with.

    2. So under federal case law, students who spoke out for equal rights during the Jim Crow era could be legally expelled?

  19. severely harming their college and job prospects, perhaps deservedly

    The bitch’s admission to a local public university was rescinded. How is that any different than kicking her out of HS?

  20. Face it, this is what PC ideologues would like to do to adults in all social and official contexts.

  21. My weed dealer says it literally every other word. It makes me uncomfortable.

    1. You could always say something.

      1. It’s “See something, say something” not “hear something, say something”.

      2. I could but he’s black and I like his weed so…

    2. You should file a complaint with his union.

  22. Yeah, this is unconstitutional. School officials tend to have some of the bigger petty power trips. If it’s not on school grounds, you have zero authority. Kids are stupid. They make mistakes. It seems as though bigotry is the one unforgivable mistake, unless you’re a Democrat politician.

  23. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

    1. In a government school that’s exactly what it means. The government isn’t allowed to impose consequences for speech. Period. That’s what freedom of it means.

    2. we are all free to shun them

  24. “this is awful but the gov’t shouldn’t do anything about it” is always the most awkward libertarian position, but also the most necessary

  25. I MAKE MORE THAN CASH$ IN MOTH.ITS REALLY CHANGE MY LIFE, IF YOU CLICK THIS WEBSITE you are true friend…………JUST NOW ….open.site

  26. last month i CHACK THIS WAB IT WAS VERY NICE PLEAS CLECK HER I THANKED FOR YOU………. Read More

  27. If only they chose to say racist things about white males, they could have landed well paying jobs in Hollywood or the DNC.

  28. Once again, it’s baffling that Trump spends so much of this press briefing ranting and raving at the media instead of celebrating and touting the really good news about the likely effects of summer weather on the coronavirus.

  29. Butt… Butt what about the stuff and stuff?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.