An Indiana appellate court this month ruled, rightly in our view, that a verdict reached by a circuit court a year ago unconstitutionally violated a young girl’s freedom of speech.
In a time where many of our freedoms are being usurped in the name of national security, we must take the time to treasure these small victories because, often times, they pave the way for the larger victories down the road.
The case involved a student, referred to only as A.B. in court papers, from Greencastle Middle School in Greencastle, Ind., who made a post on a MySpace page that appeared to be owned and operated by her principal.
A.B. did not create the fake page, but she did make a derogatory and profane post that criticized the school’s body-piercing policy. The principal, and later an Indiana circuit court, decided the post was obscene and amounted to harassment.
The circuit court placed the girl on nine months probation.
This latest appellate decision reverses the lower court’s punishment, removing the probation from her record. Her attorney successfully argued that she was making a political statement, and thus her speech was protected under the First Amendment and Article 1, Section 9 of Indiana’s state constitution.
The appeals court opinion said that because A.B. directed her comments, profane though they were, at the enforcement of a policy at a public school and at the state official, namely the principal, who was enforcing that policy, her comments were political in nature.
The court also found that the initial argument did not satisfy Indiana’s harassment test. The court did not observe any evidence that these statements inflicted any undue harm on the school’s principal.
The incident is another in a line of cases where a public official has tried to squash the voice of a student because the official believed the student’s statements to be inappropriate or uncouth.
However, there have been at least three Supreme Court cases that have afforded increased protection for student-initiated debate, according to the First Amendment Center.
One could argue MySpace constitutes a student-initiated forum of discussion and, therefore, is protected from censorship from public officials, such as a principal.
The Internet is a powerful vehicle of communication and debate and it should be kept free from the interference of government for the benefit of all, including for students who want to gripe about school policies.