School's Right to Limit First Amendment Freedoms to Students Case Study

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Legal Analysis

Case Summary

The high school is a publicly funded school with an inherent purpose to educate students between the ages of 14 and 18. As a result of the students' developing creativity, members of the student body are permitted to form academically related clubs and organizations. These organizations are expected to comply with school rules and regulations and may not interfere with the overall learning environment.

Some months after the September 11th attacks, the God Squad entered the high school campus. The Captain, heretofore referred to as the plaintiff was the leader of the group. The God Squad's overall message contained elements of white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, neo-fascist dogma mixed with a good dose of anti-abortion and fundamentalist Christian diatribe. The members of the God Squad are primarily white 11th and 12th grade boys who are characterized as school misfits, primarily with previous disciplinary records including truancy and bullying. The God Squad's uniforms were comprised of a black shirt and pants and a black bandana. The shirt contained a logo of a large knife and gun in front of the Christian cross.

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The first incident with this student-led group occurred when the plaintiff and other members of the group wore their uniforms to school. The students also began handing out a newsletter written by the plaintiff which were, "heavy on the white supremacist, racist, antisemitic, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, neo-fascist, anti-abortion and fundamentalist Christian dogma, they stop just short of directly inciting violence against these thus identified "enemies" of America. The do strongly imply an impending threat of violence against these groups by the God Squad who are 'marshaling their weapons and preparing for battle.'"

Case Study on School's Right to Limit First Amendment Freedoms to Students Assignment

The newsletter and logo on the uniforms offended a large amount of students and faculty, and caused many students to fear for their safety on campus. Furthermore, the logo and newsletters were in violation of the schools already existing policy against all violent and suggestive clothing and behavior. In response to these concerns and to prevent any violence on campus, the principal of the school, herein noted as the defendant, placed an immediate ban on the group as an on-campus club. The ban stipulates that "the God Squad members may not wear their uniforms on campus, may not distribute their newsletter on campus, may not disrupt classes or attend or disrupt administration sanctioned school clubs or events, and may not hold any non-sanctioned meetings of their own on school property. A "meeting" of the God Squad is defined in the administration's ban as any gathering of three or more God Squad members."

The next day, the plaintiff and his entire group directly violated the bans by entering school property at lunchtime in their uniforms and commencing a non-sanctioned group rally in the school's open quad area. The content of the rally was so offensive that a larger group of students formed and a verbal fight ensued between the two groups. Concerned that this shouting match would escalate to violence, the defendant accompanied by faculty and school security insert themselves between the two groups and intervene by ordering the Plaintiff and the entire God Squad to stand down and leave school property immediately or face expulsion. The Plaintiff refused to leave peacefully at which point the Defendant informed the group that all members were expelled from the school and must leave within the next five minutes or face arrest. The Plaintiff and his group refused to leave.

The defendant contacted the police who arrived with riot gear and a prisoner bus for removing the group from the campus. The members were all arrested and taken to the local police station. Members were charged at the station with trespassing, disturbing the peace, and inciting a riot. All members of the group were released on minimum bail to the custody of their parents, pending trial. The Plaintiff was held for an additional 12 hours at the station and released on a higher bond amount.

Legal Issues

The Plaintiff's father has charged the defendant and the school with violations of the God Squad's First Amendment rights, violations of the Civil Rights Act, and false arrest. The defendant heretofore denies all charges on the following grounds.

Freedom of Speech

The first amendment of the United States Constitution states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the Freedom of Speech." Freedom of Speech is violated when the speech was in a public forum and the government in some form regulated the speech.

Public Forum

A public forum is defined as any publicly owned property where full public access has been established. Typical public forums include parks, fairgrounds, and public buildings. Not all publicly owned property is considered a public forum

. Public schools have been established by the court as a limited forum

. In the case of Bethel School v. Fraser, it was established that,

These fundamental values of "habits and manners of civility" essential to a democratic society must, of course, include tolerance of divergent political and religious views, even when the views expressed may be unpopular. But these "fundamental values" must also take into account consideration of the sensibilities of others, and, in the case of a school, the sensibilities of fellow students. The undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial views in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society's countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior. Even the most heated political discourse in a democratic society requires consideration for the personal sensibilities of the other participants and audiences.

Furthermore, in New Jersey v. T.L.O. It was held that, "the First Amendment gives a high school student the classroom right to wear Tinker's armband, but not Cohen's jacket [Cohen's jacket said "Fuck the Draft"]."

Additionally, the court has established an equal limitation on written speech distributed on school grounds. In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, it was established that, a school is not required to tolerate speech that is not consistent with the school's basic educational mission.

The plaintiff's speech can be divided into three instances. First, the defendants came to school wearing a logo of a large knife and gun in front of a cross. Both knives and guns are considered violent weapons within society. The defendant holds that wearing an image of such items can easily be construed as identifying those wearing the items as being violent. Furthermore, the school has a strict policy in place of not tolerating any clothing that contains violent images. Thus, the logo of the shirt is in violation of the school's policy and is a correctly limited form of speech.

The second form of speech undertaken by the Plaintiff was that of handing out the God Squad's newsletter to the student body. The newsletter, written by the plaintiff did not contain messages consistent with the school's educational purpose, but rather contained messages that were, "heavy on the white supremacist, racist, antisemitic, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, neo-fascist, anti-abortion and fundamentalist Christian dogma, they stop just short of directly inciting violence against these thus identified "enemies" of America. They do strongly imply an impending threat of violence against these groups by the God Squad who are 'marshaling their weapons and preparing for battle.'" Such speech is the exact opposite of the modern message of education of equality and peace. Thus, the Defendant's limitation on this form of speech is justified.

The final form of speech that the Plaintiff made was the comments made during the rally. During school hours, the Plaintiff and his group commence a non-sanctioned rally and begin drawing a large crowd of students. The speech used by the Plaintiff is so offensive that the crowd of students begin shouting at the group and a verbal fight ensues. Clearly the Plaintiff's conduct was severely offensive to other students, thus impeding on their right to learn in a safe and nurturing environment. Such speech is precisely what Bethel School v. Fraiser warns about as not being protect speech in schools.

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 grants protection of certain enumerated groups from discrimination on the part of public and private entities. According to the statute, it is unlawful to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Here, the Plaintiff is claiming that expelling the God Squad students from school was a violation of their civil rights. The members of the God Squad are primarily white 11th and 12th grade boys who are characterized as school misfits, primarily with previous disciplinary records including truancy and bullying. The Plaintiff does not fall into any of the above aforementioned protected categories. Additionally, the Defendant has clearly stated that he did not expel the students based upon anything but their deliberate rejection of school policies and clear intent to stir up violence among the student body. Thus, there has been absolutely no violation of the Plaintiff's civil rights.

False Arrest

False arrest is defined as the unlawful restraint… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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