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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

At what cost free speech?



Constitution_quill_pen Anyone who has taken even the most mediocre U.S. history course should know these words: 

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The question is, at what point does one person's freedom become another person's imposition?

A few recent issues involving schools offer some points to think about.

• Here in Pasco County, the School Board has approved a policy recommending that employees send all communications to the board through the superintendent. Even at social functions, they are to keep discussions "informal."

Teacher Robert Marsh is among those trying to get the policy overturned. "I'm real big on the First Amendment," he told the board Tuesday, calling the policy an attempt to stifle speech. "I don't want to have my mouth registered."

Board members said they'll look into his concerns, which administrators have said are overblown.

• Down in Broward County, a former Pembroke Pines Charter High student criticized a teacher on her Facebook page and was punished at school for it. A federal magistrate has ruled that she had every right to vent online, and that the school was wrong.

The ACLU took the case for the girl, now a UF student, saying it wanted to make clear that the First Amendment is alive and well in the world of social networking.

But how about at public functions?

• At a recent talk at the University of California-Irvine, students repeatedly rose to heckle the speaker — Israel's ambassador to the United States. The hecklers said they had a right to speak out. The university called the interruptions "intolerable" and an affront to free speech, Inside Higher Ed reports

So we put it to you. Should teachers be allowed to talk to School Board members? Should students be allowed to criticize teachers? Should audiences be allowed to heckle university speakers?

In other words, does the First Amendment have any boundaries? If so, where? And shouldn't we always remember that with rights come responsibilities that you have to be willing to accept?


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:50am]


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