FAQ

First Amendment Center (6)

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The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center does not provide legal representation and does not fund litigation. We’re a nonprofit organization focused on education and information about First Amendment issues.

No, you need a qualified attorney for that. Laws differ from state to state. Martindale, Findlaw and other online legal services offer ways to find lawyers by specialty where you live. However, the information posted on our site may help you and your attorney. Use the search engine for topics or terms that interest you.

The mission of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center is to serve as a nonpartisan source of information, rather than as a participant in legal disputes. Therefore, the Center does not file amicus briefs.

No. We are an educational organization. We provide information and sometimes expert testimony that members of Congress or others may find useful, but we do not lobby.

Our website has a wealth of information that may be useful in your project. Search the site for your topic and other terms that interest you. If you quote or paraphrase our information, be sure to cite where you obtained it.

Yes, as schedules and duties permit, Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center experts speak to groups and conferences or participates in programs. Generally, the inviting group must fund travel-related expenses for the First Amendment Center participant. The Center welcomes invitations to participate in nonpartisan, educational events about First Amendment issues.

Free Spirit (11)

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The deadline is Feb. 1, 2019. Applications must include the completed application, journalistic work, two essays, letters of reference, a high school transcript, and a color headshot photo. Incomplete applications will not be accepted.

Applications may be accepted beyond the deadline from select states that have an insufficient number of qualified applicants.

No. Applicants are not required to list SAT or ACT scores, because juniors typically don’t take the exams until spring. However, scores should be supplied if they are available.

Two essays with a maximum of 500 words each must be submitted with the application. First, applicants must explain why they want to pursue a career in journalism; and second, what characteristics make them a “free spirit.”

No. We require samples of writing, photography, audio, video or other media that were produced for publication or for classroom assignments.

All candidates will be notified by mail no later than mid-May 2019. Recipients will be required to sign an acknowledgment form to confirm their acceptance. Scholars’ names will be posted online in early June 2019.

Freedom of Speech (73)

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School officials cannot pull books off library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas in those books. In Board of Education v. Pico, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials in New York violated the First Amendment by removing several books from junior high school library shelves for being too controversial.

The Court said the First Amendment protects students’ rights to receive information and ideas and that the principal place for such information is the library.

However, in Pico, the Supreme Court also said that school officials could remove books from library shelves if they were “pervasively vulgar.” The Court noted that its decision did not involve school officials’ control over the curriculum or even the acquisition of books for school libraries.

An offended person’s decision not to speak is hardly a reason to suppress the speech of others. Those who find an idea, epithet, literary work or other form of expression offensive can oppose, counteract and perhaps refute it with further speech — not by banning the speech deemed to be offensive.

As Justice Louis Brandeis said in a famous quote, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

States take different approaches to allocating time for public comments at public meetings, and courts across the country have provided some guidance on this issue. Most states do not expressly require, via statutes or legal precedent, time for public participation in public meetings, although it has become a customary practice to allow individuals to speak. Often in the case of school board meetings, members of the public are required to provide notice, or to register with the board well before the meeting, to be allowed to make a comment.

The Florida Supreme Court has recognized that public comments in open meetings are important in maintaining an open government. The court has stated that government bodies “should not be allowed to deprive the public of this inalienable right to be present and to be heard at all deliberations wherein decisions affecting the public are being made.” Board of Public Instruction of Broward County v. Doan, 224 So. 2d 693,699 (Fla. 1969). Furthermore, the Florida Code expressly provides that members of the public have a right to participate in local government meetings regarding land use, but the comment time can be regulated by the decision-making body. Fla. Stat. § 286.0115(2)(b).

California has a statute that requires public bodies to allow for public comments at meetings. Cal. Gov. Code § 54954.3(a). A California case provides legal precedent for when a public meeting is continued to a later date for some reason. In Chaffee v. San Francisco Library Commission, 115 Cal. Rptr. 3d 336 (Cal. App. 2004), a public meeting was continued to a later date after the meeting body lost its quorum to continue. A California citizen brought suit alleging that the state sunshine laws (or open-meeting laws) required public comments at every meeting of a public body, not just a comment section on each agenda. The California Court of Appeals in the 1st Appellate District held in favor of the public body by holding that public comments are mandated only once per agenda, not once per body meeting. Allowing for public comments at each meeting regarding the same meeting would cause a “surplusage,” the court said.

Some states, such as Wyoming, statutorily make it a right of a public body to prevent willful disruption of a meeting by removing anyone causing a disruption or by taking a recess. Wyo. Stat. § 16-4-406.

Many supporters feel that the flag is a unique symbol deserving of dignity and respect. To burn this object of veneration is akin to an “inarticulate grunt or roar” that is devoid of any meaningful speech, intended only to enrage others, and undeserving of free-speech protection. The supporters say that when so many other avenues exist for free expression, any burden on the First Amendment is too small to outweigh the desecration of the flag and the memories of the millions who have died for the liberty it represents.

Yes. Individuals are not subject to the rules and regulations concerning online campaign advertising. An individual may send unlimited personal emails on any political topic. There is no need even to identify yourself, and it is not necessary to state whether or not you have been authorized by a political party in sending the email.

Freedom of expression refers to the ability of an individual or group of individuals to express their beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and emotions about different issues free from government censorship. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individuals to freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly. Some scholars group several of those freedoms under the general term “freedom of expression.”

Most state constitutions also contain provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression. Some provide even greater protection than the First Amendment.

Freedom of expression is essential to individual liberty and contributes to what the Supreme Court has called the marketplace of ideas. The First Amendment assumes that the speaker, not the government, should decide the value of speech.

Freedom of the Press (39)

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The status of the plaintiff (person bringing a lawsuit) in defamation law is important because there are different legal standards for different types of plaintiffs. The legal standard changes depending upon whether the defamation plaintiff is a private or public figure. Private figures must show that a defendant was negligent, or at fault, in order to prevail. But, so-called public figures or public officials who sue for defamation must meet a higher legal standard. They must show that a defendant acted with actual malice by clear and convincing evidence in order to recover. The courts have defined actual malice as knowing that a statement was false or acting in reckless disregard as to whether a statement was true or false.

This difference in legal standards shows why a significant amount of defamation litigation focuses on whether the plaintiff is a private or public figure. Defamation defendants will often argue that plaintiffs are public figures, while plaintiffs will often contend that they are private figures.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association closely monitors the federal and state rules governing cameras in the courtroom. The foundation posts a state-by-state guide of current law regarding cameras and microphones in courtrooms on its website.

Just as with any medium of communication, blogging can implicate a variety of First Amendment interests. Some bloggers write material that others may claim is defamatory. There is also a debate as to whether bloggers qualify as journalists or reporters for purposes of reporter-shield legislation. Additionally, a looming question concerns the extent of free-speech protection held by public employees who post blogs on their free time. There is also a debate as to whether bloggers should be subject to campaign-disclosure legislation.

A retraction statute is a law that allows a defamation plaintiff to retract, or take back, a defamatory statement. Retraction statutes vary considerably from state to state in terms of their coverage and net effect. Under many statutes, a plaintiff has to request a retraction within a certain time frame. Then, the defendant must comply in a certain time frame. In many states, if a defendant issues a proper retraction, the defendant can reduce (but not eliminate) the damages they will have to pay. For example, in Tennessee, if a defendant issues a proper retraction, the defendant cannot be held liable for punitive damages. (Punitive damages are damages designed to punish the wrongdoer; they are controversial in some circles, because they go beyond compensatory damages, which are damages designed to compensate the plaintiff for wrongdoing.)

Broadcasters long have maintained that the tools of their trade — cameras and microphones — can be used to cover trials with no more disruption than the pens, notebooks, tape recorders and other materials used by print reporters and sketch artists. Most courts, however, have not been persuaded by this argument. In addition, most courts have taken the view that, as long as television reporters are allowed into the courtroom, they have the same access as print reporters.

That is a difficult question. Certainly, public employers have authority to prohibit employees from writing their blogs on employer time. The trickier question is whether a public employee can be disciplined for expression created on his or her own time. One theory is that since the expression was created off-duty, then the employer has no control over such content. A key factor could be whether the expression causes a disruption at the workplace. A few courts, for instance, have disciplined employees for racist comments they have made off-duty. This is a developing area of the law that merits close attention.

Freedom of Religion (89)

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Selecting a Bible for use in literature, history or elective Bible courses is important, since there is no single Bible. There is a Jewish Bible (the Hebrew Scriptures, or Tanakh), and there are various Christian Bibles — such as Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox — some with additional books, arranged in a different order. These differences are significant. For example, Judaism does not include the Christian New Testament in its Bible, and the Catholic Old Testament has 46 books, while the Protestant has 39. There are also various English translations within each of these traditions.

To adopt any particular Bible — or translation — is likely to suggest to students that it is normative, the best Bible. One solution is to use a biblical sourcebook that includes the key texts of each of the major Bibles or an anthology of various translations.

At the outset and at crucial points in the course, teachers should remind students about the differences between the various Bibles and discuss some of the major views concerning authorship and compilation of the books of the Bible. Students should also understand the differences in translations, read from several translations, and reflect on the significance of these differences for the various traditions.

The Supreme Court has declined to address this issue, though the lower courts strongly favor the constitutionality of such holidays. The 9th Circuit in 1991 upheld legislation making Good Friday a state holiday in Cammack v. Waihee, reasoning that the absence of a major traditional holiday in the spring created a state interest in decreeing one, and that it made sense for the legislature to select a day that would already be used by the majority of citizens as a holiday. This decision set the stage for the 4th and 6th Circuits to issue similar rulings. The 7th Circuit disagreed in Metzl v. Leininger (1994), holding that because Good Friday is an exclusively Christian holiday that has in no way been secularized, as have Christmas and Easter, its elevation to the status of a state holiday was unconstitutional, because it sent a message of endorsement to the public, even if the practical result was neither to advance nor inhibit religion. The holding in Metzl did allow for a finding of constitutionality, however, if the legislature would merely make the effort to advance a secular reasoning for the case.

They may engage in lobbying activities as long as the lobbying does not form a “substantial part” of their activities. According to the IRS, lobbying is “attempting to influence legislation” and “an organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.” The IRS says it “considers a variety of factors, including the time devoted (by both compensated and volunteer workers) and the expenditures devoted by the organization to the activity, when determining whether the lobbying activity is substantial.” According to the courts, devoting 5% of an organization’s time and effort to political activity is not considered substantial within the meaning of the IRS Code. See Seasongood v. Commissioner.

Given the importance and influence of religion, public schools should include study about religion in some depth on the secondary level. As already suggested, such study may include study about the Bible, where appropriate, in history and literature courses as well as in elective courses that deal with the Bible.

However, a course that includes study about the Bible and its influence will not educate students about religion generally. Just as there is more to history than American history, so there is more to religion than the Bible, Judaism and Christianity.

Public schools should also include study about other religious faiths in the core curriculum and offer electives in world religions. Because religion plays a significant role in history and society, study about religion is essential to understanding both the nation and the world. Moreover, knowledge of the roles of religion in the past and present promotes crosscultural understanding in our increasingly diverse society.

Some school districts require that high schools offering a Bible elective also offer an elective in world religions. There is considerable merit in this approach. This gives students an opportunity to learn about a variety of religions and conveys to students from faiths other than the biblical traditions that their religions are also worthy of study. It is important for public schools to convey the message that the curriculum is designed to offer a good education, and not to prefer any religious faith or group.

Yes. Where the state determines that a day of rest would be desirable in some kinds of businesses and not in others, they are permitted to restrict only those that they deem to be necessary. Likewise, the state may decide to forbid or limit the sale of certain items (such as alcohol) on any given day, so long as the decision is justified by some secular purpose instead of a religious one. In a 1999 decision, Harris County, Texas v. CarMax Auto Superstores, Inc., the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law that forbade car dealerships from being open on consecutive Saturdays and Sundays. Effectively this forced the business owners to choose one day or the other as a day of rest for their employees, though it did not dictate any particular preference as to which one should be adopted. The court denied that the law unfairly discriminated against car dealers or established any sort of preference for religion as opposed to no religion.

No, all states include a medical exemption in their vaccination policy, and almost half of the states offer philosophical exemptions in addition to their medical and religious accommodations.

Freedom of Assembly (13)

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No. The government can limit such protests depending on several factors. First, violent protests are outlawed anywhere. The text of the First Amendment provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” The key word is “peaceably” — violent protesting is not allowed.

Second, not all government property is treated the same for First Amendment purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court has established the public-forum doctrine to examine whether certain types of public property are open to First Amendment expressive activity. These categories include traditional public forums, limited or designated public forums and nonpublic forums. Still other government property is not considered a forum at all.

First Amendment rights apply the most in a traditional public forum, such as a public park. In its 1939 decision Hague v. C.I.O. the U.S. Supreme Court explained: “Wherever the title of streets and parks may rest, they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of the public and, time out of mind, have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.”

The general rule is that government officials may not impose content-based restrictions on speech in a public forum. This means that city officials must not treat different persons and groups of persons differently on the basis of the content (and viewpoint) of their messages. The government can justify content-based speech restrictions only by showing that it has a compelling state interest in imposing them (such as safety or security concerns), and that it has done so in a narrowly tailored way. Even in a public forum, the government may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are content-neutral, leave open ample, alternative ways for expression and are narrowly tailored. This means that city officials could limit protests to certain hours of the day and perhaps certain locations. Again, the key terms are “reasonable” and “content-neutral.”

The next category is a limited or designated public forum (though some lower courts distinguish between limited and designated — see discussion in Speaking at public meetings section).

In a limited public forum (such as a meeting room on a public college campus that is frequently used by outside groups), the government designates the certain types of subject matter that can be discussed at the location. After the government has created such a forum, setting boundaries on classes of speakers or topics, the government must meet the standards of a traditional public forum; namely, restrictions on speech must be reasonable and viewpoint-neutral. The theory is that when the government opens a forum up to the public, it shouldn’t be able to skew discussions by over-regulating expression.

Still another category is the nonpublic forum, a place where the government has greater leeway for control, as restrictions on expression must only be reasonable and viewpoint-neutral. What this means is that the right to protest is often affected by the location and purpose of the government property where the protest takes place. In United States v. Grace (1983), the U.S. Supreme Court wrote that the “public sidewalks forming the perimeter of the Supreme Court grounds, in our view, are public forums and should be treated as such for First Amendment purposes.” The same protest rights would not apply inside the Supreme Court building or on the steps right outside the Court. In U.S. v. Kokinda (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that postal sidewalks were not public forums, writing that they do “not have the characteristics of public sidewalks traditionally open to expressive activity.” The Court clarified that “the location and purpose of a publicly owned sidewalk is critical to determining whether such a sidewalk constitutes a public forum.”

In sum, there is no unfettered right to protest on government property. Protests must be peaceable, and the government has the right to impose content-neutral, reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expression. Furthermore, as the Supreme Court said in Kokinda, “the government’s ownership of property does not automatically open that property to the public.”

The government has greater power to regulate expression when it acts as a proprietor controlling its internal operations than it does as a sovereign lawmaker. This means that government officials could limit protests inside a courthouse because the government has important operations to conduct. It must be able to control its operations to carry out its functions. The government must be able to carry on its own speech and expression free from interference. Contrast this with the public sidewalks two blocks from a courthouse. Here, the government cannot argue that it is conducting its own internal operations. Speech restrictions there would implicate a forum analysis and trigger a higher degree of judicial scrutiny.

Simply attending peaceful meetings of an organization will not make a person guilty, even if other members of that organization commit lawless acts. Guilt can be shared only if the organization and its members have a common plan to break the law.

In most cases, yes. Most states consider shopping malls to be the private property of the mall owner. Just as with any piece of private property, owners can make rules regarding that property, including what is appropriate attire. Think of “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case Hudgens v. National Labor Relations Board. This case involved a group of labor union members who were picketing inside a privately owned mall. The union members filed suit claiming, in part, that their First Amendment free-speech rights had been violated after they were asked to leave the premises or be arrested for criminal trespass. The court looked at past cases and found that the First Amendment does not prevent a property owner from restricting the exercise of free speech on private property, in this instance, the shopping mall. So, for example, if a mall shopper were asked to cover a shirt that the mall owners found to be offensive, the shopper would have to comply or leave.

New Jersey and California have found their state constitutions to provide more freedoms than the U.S. Constitution — meaning that in these states constitutional rights to free speech can prevail over the private-property interests of mall owners. See Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980). However, most states that have addressed this issue have found in favor of property owners.

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Freedom of assembly is explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment, securing the right of people to meet for any purpose connected with government. Freedom of association protects the activities and composition of such meetings. This right is not explicitly set out in the Constitution but is instead derived from fundamental privacy interests and the rights of speech, petition and assembly.

Any and every group is allowed to meet to discuss ideas and peaceably promote its point of view, even if that message is distasteful to others. Whether through parades, peaceful protests, picketing or simply sharing ideas, an organization formed for expressive purposes may engage in “group speech” to advance its mission. Freedom of association also protects the gathering of people for personal, private purposes, such as the meeting of family members.

Groups that wish to engage in public activism must abide by generally applicable laws, such as criminal trespass or prohibitions on litter, excess noise, crowd congestion and permit requirements. If the government seeks to intervene in the internal affairs of a group in a way that impairs its advocacy, the regulation must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest that outweighs any burden on the group’s speech.

Freedom to Petition (9)

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Historically, a petition was a written request stating a grievance and requesting relief from a ruling authority such as a king. In modern America, petitioning embraces a range of expressive activities designed to influence public officials through legal, nonviolent means.

The right to petition reaches back at least to the Magna Carta in 1215. The English Declaration of Rights in 1689 confirmed that subjects were entitled to petition the king without fear of prosecution.

Courts seldom address the petition clause in isolation, instead grouping it with other rights to free association and collective speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that the right to petition at least provides the opportunity to institute nonfrivolous lawsuits and mobilize popular support to change existing laws in a peaceful manner.

No. The U.S. Supreme Court has incorporated the petition clause of the First Amendment as part of the 14th Amendment’s guarantees against the states. The petition clause applies equally to state and local governments and protects petitions directed to the judicial, executive and legislative branches.

The First Amendment does not mandate that the government consider the public’s petitions or actually provide any “redress.” At a minimum, the government must have a mechanism for receiving complaints and grievances from the public, even if only to file them without consideration. Of course, due process — the guarantee that justice will be administered fairly — would apply if a citizen’s “petition” took the form of a court case.

No, parties can attempt to file such suits, but the First Amendment’s petition clause guarantees the right of all interested parties to attempt to enlist the government on their side of an issue or dispute. The vast majority of the case law and commentary — both popular and scholarly — supports that right, and suggests that the remedy for dissatisfaction with the statements of another party is more speech directed toward government, not more litigation.

Students (4)

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It depends. If you attend a private school, the First Amendment will not protect you from any restrictions your school places on your right to protest. (The First Amendment prevents the government from punishing you for your speech. It doesn’t prevent a private organization for punishing you for your speech.)

If you attend a public school, you do have First Amendment rights, even at school. However, your rights are more limited than the rights of adults. Your school can punish you for taking part in a protest if it causes substantial disruption of school activities, or if it invades the rights of others.

This standard was established by the Supreme Court in a case called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The students in that case wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War, and were suspended for refusing to take them off. The Supreme Court found that their First Amendment rights had been violated, because the armbands were considered a non-disruptive expression of their political point of view.

You may decide that you are willing to incur those penalties, but remember to consider alternative methods of advocacy and protest as well.  Sometimes civil disobedience–challenging the rules on matters of conscience and policy–is justifiable.  But sometimes there are several different ways to achieve the same goal.

This is may be a fire code violation–contact the proper authorities if you are concerned.

You may not be able to vote–but you have the First Amendment rights to speak, assemble, and petition.

Organizing marches and rallies can raise public awareness for your cause. Doing so off-campus and outside of school hours will be protected by the First Amendment.  Reach out and collaborate with as many people as possible–parents, teachers, school administrators, and members of your community–in order to have the greatest possible impact.

The right to petition means the right to ask for the laws that you want and speak out against the ones that you don’t want.  Contact your elected officials and tell them what you think.   Letters, phone calls, and personal interactions at town hall meetings have more of an impact than emails and tweets.  Contact your Senators and members of Congress, since they’re elected to serve you.  Don’t forget that state and local officials also make laws that impact you.  The My Reps website allows you to find and contact your federal, state, county, and local elected officials.  This guide by  former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth contains some very helpful tips on what you should say and do.

Parents (1)

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First, you may want to reach out to the school administrators and/or the school board and make your own voice heard on how you feel about this policy.

In giving advice or instructions to your children, you should consider the potential penalties but also discuss the underlying issues behind the walk-out.  You may wish to help your child with alternative forms of activism–for instance, by contacting your legislators on their behalf.  (After all, you have a vote.)

This could also be an opportunity to work collectively with other parents and your school leaders to organize a community discussion about the political issues, and also the on the the larger civic lessons surrounding free speech, protest, and representative democracy.

Teachers (1)

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If you’re caught between students motivated to join in protests, marches or other kinds of activities that are under the general heading of “free expression” [that is actual speech or expressive conduct] and your administration’s view of such actions as disruptive and therefore prohibited, perhaps you can strike a compromise between these groups  – a task that teachers’ lounge chatter daily confirms. How about leading your students in discussion about the history of protest in America, or the explore the various sides of what Supreme Court justices wrote in the “Tinker” court case.

While the 7-2 majority on the court supported student free speech rights – with some caveats – one justice wrote that the decision would usher in an entirely new era of “permissiveness” that it seems would wreck American public schools. To engage your students in a discussion, you can find review the basic information about the case and use this discussion guide from Newseum Education.

School Administrators (1)

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You first face the decision of whether to forbid the walk-out at all or to simply deal with the disruption caused by a walk-out.  (This decision might depend on whether you are considering the disruption caused by a 17-minute walkout versus that of an all-day walkout).  You then face the decision of whether or not to punish the participants.  Note that a punishment must be proportional to the misconduct committed.  Furthermore, if you decide to mark truant the students who participate in a walk-out, keep in mind that the punishment for them cannot be any more severe than the punishment for students who are truant for another reason.

Simply locking students into their classrooms in order to keep them from leaving may well be a fire code violation. Such a “lockdown” lacks the urgent “true threat” justification that a court might accept with regard to an active, dangerous incident in your building or near your location.

You should also consider that there may be another approach altogether. Given that we live in an age where there is much concern that young people don’t understand the Constitution or support free speech, punishing them for exercising it, even if the even if the Tinker decision gives school administrators that discretion, seems counterproductive. In the words of law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, “Schools cannot teach the importance of the First Amendment and simultaneously not follow it.”

This could be a teaching moment for your students and your community.  In cooperation with students, parents, and teachers, you may wish to organize a town hall meeting in which all sides surrounding the political issue or debate are head.  Newseum Ed’s Teaching Controversial Topics instruction guide provides tools and tips for educators on leading classroom conversations about sensitive topics.  

You can also use this as an opportunity to educate your students about how the First Amendment works and how far their rights extend.  You can start by introducing students to what the limits of free speech are, both inside of school and out of it, with discussion materials from Newseum Ed about what counts as a violation of the First Amendment and what you can and can’t say in school.

 

 

 

 

Lawyers (8)

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The other part of the Tinker test is sometimes called the “invasion of the rights” prong or “invasion of the rights of others” test.   The Court in Tinker explained that student speech is not protected by the First Amendment if it impinges on the rights of other students.  The Court has not explained the contours of this test.

However, lower courts have applied this test to prohibit student speech that sexually harasses other students or to student speech containing anti-gay themes.  For example, the 9th Circuit ruled in Harper v. Poway Unified School District (2006) that school officials could prohibit a student from wearing t-shirts containing Biblical verses condemning homosexuality. The appeals court explained: “Speech that attacks high school students who are members of minority groups that have historically been oppressed, subjected to verbal and physical abuse, and made to feel inferior, serves to injure and intimidate them, as well as to damage their sense of security and interfere with their opportunity to learn.”

Absolutely not.  U.S. District Court Judge Rodney Sippel expressed this well years ago in Beussink v. Woodland IV School District (E.D. Mo. 1998), writing “Disliking or being upset by the content of a student’s speech is not an acceptable justification for limiting student speech under Tinker.

In a case out of Tennessee, Giles County public school officials contended that a t-shirt with pro-gay and lesbian themes would be disruptive to the school. A review federal district court judge disagreed in Young v. Giles County (M.D. Tenn. 2015), writing that “[m]erely invoking the word ‘disruption’ falls far short of the showing that Tinker requires.”

No. The Court in Tinker declared that “undifferitienated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to over the right to freedom of expression.”   School officials must have some evidence or a reasoned judgment that speech will cause problems before they engage in blanket censorship.

The Supreme Court in Tinker developed a test for evaluating whether school officials can censor student expression without violating the First Amendment.   The test is known as the “substantial disruption” test.  Under this test, school officials may prohibit student speech if they can reasonably forecast that the student speech will cause a material interference or substantial disruption of school activities or invade the rights of others.

Yes, students do possess First Amendment rights at school.   The U.S. Supreme Court famously wrote in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  However, the Court cautioned that students’ rights must be considered “in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.”

That is an excellent question.  The determination of what constitutes a “substantial disruption” is decided on a case-by-case basis.  The interruption of classes, threats to teachers, racially harassing conduct and significant race-based tension, fights or violent behavior on school grounds, the flooding of angry calls from parents, the canceling of school events, and emotional distress suffered by teachers have all been considered substantial disruptions within the meaning of the Tinker standard.

Workplace Integrity Curriculum (7)

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It’s the product of both research and experience. I drew on the findings from the Power Shift Summit, EEOC data on harassment and discrimination, research on bias in decision making, contemporary writing on gender and diversity issues, and combined it all with my own experiences working with journalists and leaders who want to improve their cultures.

Let me answer that by providing a peek at the Facilitator’s Guide for the curriculum, where the learning objectives are laid out:

Format: The interactive program consists of three modules, designed to be taught in succession, as one complete event. Each session builds on the others.

Learning objectives: Participants who complete the workshop should be able to take away these skills from each of the modules:

  1. Critical Thinking: How to analyze common workplace exchanges related to harassment, discrimination and incivility — checking facts, providing context, identifying bias, surfacing assumptions and challenging logic.
  2. Courageous Conversations: How to better understand conflict and responses to it. How to speak proactively (introducing subjects) and reactively (responding to the words and actions of others) to ensure workplace integrity.
  3. Cultures of Respect and Trust: How to assess and improve your workplace culture.

I’ve spent a great deal of time helping newsrooms who want their cultures to be more investigative, multi-platform, digital-first, audience-centric, enterprising, collaborative or breaking-news focused. To do that, I developed a very practical analytical framework for assessing a culture, and exercises for staff to use to upgrade it. I built on that foundation to apply it to the Workplace Integrity curriculum. Now, newsroom teams will address “Cultures of Respect and Trust” — with both of those terms carefully defined and translated into daily choices and behaviors. We use a format that allows staff to work together in teams, under the guidance of a skilled facilitator who knows and loves journalism and journalists, and speaks the language of the newsroom.

The issues are complex and intertwined. Even if we magically ended sexual misconduct in workplaces tomorrow, we’d still be left with longstanding issues of inequality in pay and power — and even in respect. The curriculum aims to make these connections and discuss the intersections among gender, race and ethnicity, age, and power. It constantly challenges the participants to try to see every item we discuss from multiple perspectives, especially those different from their own. And, while it teaches people how to respond to improper workplace behavior, there’s an even bigger emphasis on how each of us, but especially leaders, has the opportunity to be proactive. “Courageous Conversations” will fail as a session if all it does is help victims push back or report wrongdoing. What it must also do is help us all find the words to propose solutions, take a stand, and embed the values of workplace integrity into our everyday communication.

The 2016 report of an EEOC task force reviewed research on traditional anti-harassment training and found scant evidence that it worked. It often made people defensive. The videos used could be corny or dated, and online versions of training could come off as a “box-checking” exercise. I know from my many years of teaching ethics and diversity that talking across differences, and raising issues of power and privilege, is hard work for humans. Framing it as compliance to company rules doesn’t set the table for candid, earnest and even painful conversations. But it is in those that we find the human insights that inform our minds and hearts. Whenever I’ve had success in helping organizations improve their cultures, it’s been through setting the table for conversations people wouldn’t otherwise have, and helping them see the world through others’ eyes in an open-minded atmosphere of trust. That’s the goal of the Workplace Integrity curriculum.

One of the most popular sessions I teach in leadership workshops is “Difficult Conversations.” I traditionally have the workshop participants share scenarios from their own experiences, and then I coach them on how to handle them. I’ve heard so many great case studies, and coached so many conversations, that I drew from that experience. The cases are nuanced and real. I intentionally crafted them in second-person voice. “You” are facing various proactive and reactive scenarios: proposing a change in intern onboarding, reacting to a powerful, talented and mercurial co-worker, responding to unwelcome physical contact, stepping in when a person is being harassed, and coaching a coworker who brings a concern to you. When “you” consider your options, we also ask “you” to consider how the case might play out differently for a variety of other “you’s” — who differ from you in multiple ways.

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The 2016 report of an EEOC task force reviewed research on traditional anti-harassment training and found scant evidence that it worked. It often made people defensive. The videos used could be corny or dated, and online versions of training could come off as a “box-checking” exercise. I know from my many years of teaching ethics and diversity that talking across differences, and raising issues of power and privilege, is hard work for humans. Framing it as compliance to company rules doesn’t set the table for candid, earnest and even painful conversations. But it is in those that we find the human insights that inform our minds and hearts. Whenever I’ve had success in helping organizations improve their cultures, it’s been through setting the table for conversations people wouldn’t otherwise have, and helping them see the world through others’ eyes in an open-minded atmosphere of trust. That’s the goal of the Workplace Integrity curriculum.

One of the most popular sessions I teach in leadership workshops is “Difficult Conversations.” I traditionally have the workshop participants share scenarios from their own experiences, and then I coach them on how to handle them. I’ve heard so many great case studies, and coached so many conversations, that I drew from that experience. The cases are nuanced and real. I intentionally crafted them in second-person voice. “You” are facing various proactive and reactive scenarios: proposing a change in intern onboarding, reacting to a powerful, talented and mercurial co-worker, responding to unwelcome physical contact, stepping in when a person is being harassed, and coaching a coworker who brings a concern to you. When “you” consider your options, we also ask “you” to consider how the case might play out differently for a variety of other “you’s” — who differ from you in multiple ways.

Harvard’s John Kotter has written that people don’t “Analyze, think, and change.” Instead, they “See, feel and change.” I think this curriculum has the potential to help people see the world through the eyes of others and feel how everyday actions, big and small, can have a profound impact for better or worse. But best of all, they get to create their own roadmap, not be handed one with every route pre-determined for them. After all, journalists love nothing more than ideas and solutions of our own creation. So, they’ll have the chance to do that in the Workplace Integrity modules. I’m confident it can work.

It’s the product of both research and experience. I drew on the findings from the Power Shift Summit, EEOC data on harassment and discrimination, research on bias in decision making, contemporary writing on gender and diversity issues, and combined it all with my own experiences working with journalists and leaders who want to improve their cultures.

Let me answer that by providing a peek at the Facilitator’s Guide for the curriculum, where the learning objectives are laid out:

Format: The interactive program consists of three modules, designed to be taught in succession, as one complete event. Each session builds on the others.

Learning objectives: Participants who complete the workshop should be able to take away these skills from each of the modules:

  1. Critical Thinking: How to analyze common workplace exchanges related to harassment, discrimination and incivility — checking facts, providing context, identifying bias, surfacing assumptions and challenging logic.
  2. Courageous Conversations: How to better understand conflict and responses to it. How to speak proactively (introducing subjects) and reactively (responding to the words and actions of others) to ensure workplace integrity.
  3. Cultures of Respect and Trust: How to assess and improve your workplace culture.

I’ve spent a great deal of time helping newsrooms who want their cultures to be more investigative, multi-platform, digital-first, audience-centric, enterprising, collaborative or breaking-news focused. To do that, I developed a very practical analytical framework for assessing a culture, and exercises for staff to use to upgrade it. I built on that foundation to apply it to the Workplace Integrity curriculum. Now, newsroom teams will address “Cultures of Respect and Trust” — with both of those terms carefully defined and translated into daily choices and behaviors. We use a format that allows staff to work together in teams, under the guidance of a skilled facilitator who knows and loves journalism and journalists, and speaks the language of the newsroom.