FAQ

First Amendment Center (5)

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The Freedom Forum 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.

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, Freedom Forum 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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No. Freedom Forum will pay all expenses for travel, lodging, ground transportation and meals for participants. Additional details will be sent to the winners.

The conference will be held June 19-24, 2020 at a downtown Washington, D.C., venue, yet to be determined. Scholars will be staying at Washington, D.C., area hotel.

The Close Up Foundation, which has been bringing high school students to Washington, D.C., for 30 years, will handle travel logistics. The foundation also will provide supervision and oversight of participants.

No. All scholars are required to participate in the entire conference. This is an inspiring opportunity to interact with distinguished journalists, visit newsrooms, tour Washington and share experiences with other Free Spirit Scholars.

Applicants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

The deadline is Feb. 1, 2020. 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.

Freedom of Speech (73)

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The U.S. Supreme Court has decided several cases involving the First Amendment rights of public school students, but the most often cited are Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986) and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988).

In Tinker, the Supreme Court said that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The court ruled that Iowa public school officials violated the First Amendment rights of several students by suspending them for wearing black armbands to school.

The court noted that the students’ wearing of armbands to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam was a form of symbolic speech “akin to pure speech.” The school officials tried to justify their actions, saying that the armbands would disrupt the school environment.

But, the Supreme Court said that “in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.” School officials cannot silence student speech simply because they dislike it or it is controversial or unpopular. Rather, according to the court, school officials must reasonably forecast that student speech will cause a “substantial disruption” or “material interference” with school activities or “invade the rights of others” before they can censor student expression. The Tinker case is considered the high-water mark for student First Amendment rights.

In the 1980s, a more conservative Supreme Court cut back on students’ free-expression rights in Fraser and Hazelwood. In Fraser, school officials suspended a high school student for giving a lewd speech before the student assembly. Even though Matthew Fraser’s speech was part of a student-government campaign, the high court distinguished the sexual nature of the address from the political speech in Tinker.

“Surely, it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse,” the court wrote in its 1986 decision. “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.”

Two years later, the Supreme Court further restricted student free-expression rights in Hazelwood. In that 1988 decision, several students sued after a Missouri high school principal censored two articles in the school newspaper. The articles, written by students, dealt with divorce and teen pregnancy. The principal said he thought the subject matter was inappropriate for some of the younger students.

The students argued that the principal violated their First Amendment rights because he did not meet the Tinker standard — he did not show the articles would lead to a substantial disruption. Instead of examining the case under Tinker, however, the Supreme Court developed a new standard for what it termed school-sponsored speech.

Under this standard, school officials can regulate school-sponsored student expression, as long as the officials’ actions “are reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical interest.” In plain English, this means school officials must show that they have a reasonable educational reason for their actions. The court broadly defined the school’s authority to regulate school-sponsored expression, writing that school officials could censor material which would “associate the school with anything other than neutrality on matters of political controversy.”

The Supreme Court spoke to this issue in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), in which it held that even those statements (or student groups, in this case) that advocate violation of the law are protected speech under the First Amendment unless they threaten “imminent lawless action.” This principle was tested recently by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance v. Pryor, where the state of Alabama passed a statute that prevented state universities from recognizing or distributing funds to student groups that promoted lifestyles prohibited under the state’s sodomy laws. The court found that the GLBA did not promote “imminent lawless action,” and that any statute intended to restrict the group’s otherwise-protected advocacy of a nontraditional lifestyle was inherently unconstitutional.

Free-speech advocates warn that “voluntary” programs may seem to come from willing industry participants, but compliance is usually due to significant pressure from lawmakers.

Those who like the new law say it merely restores the political landscape to the way it was a decade ago, before the use of soft money and electioneering ads became so widespread. In a recent position paper, Brookings Institution scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein also insist that “no speech is banned by the new law — not a single ad nor any word or combination of words would be muzzled.” Only the source of the funds and the disclosure of the source are affected by the law, they say. In addition, supporters argue that the importance of curbing corruption in the political system outweighs any infringement on expression the law might impose.

It depends. If the school has by policy or practice turned the school-sponsored publication into a public forum, or a place traditionally open to the free exchange of ideas, then the school has less authority to censor content. However, most school newspapers are not public forums, and because of a 1988 Supreme Court decision, school officials generally have broad leeway to censor school-sponsored publications.

In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the high court ruled that school officials can censor school-sponsored publications if their decision is “reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical purpose.” This means school officials must show that they have a reasonable educational reason for censoring the material.

The high court gave several examples of material that could be censored based on a reasonable educational purpose, including material that is “ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences.”

The court went so far as to say that under the Hazelwood standard, school officials could censor school-sponsored materials that would “associate the school with anything other than neutrality on matters of political controversy.”

Student advocates decried the Hazelwood decision as blatant censorship that would lead to a drastic reduction in students’ First Amendment rights. For this reason, several states passed so-called “anti-Hazelwood laws” that grant student journalists more protection. Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon passed such laws after the decision. (California already had a law protecting student journalists.)

Suppose a student is taking a drawing class. Part of it involves sketching a nude human body. If a student has a religious objection to observing or drawing unclothed models, he or she might ask to be exempted from that section of the class without damage to the course grade. Such an exemption may or may not be granted.

It stands to reason, under a doctrine established by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1943 decision West Virginia v. Barnette, that no one may be compelled by a government actor to do something that will violate their conscience. Accordingly, it would seem that the same could be said for students who find religious or moral objections to certain practices normally required in a course of study — that they should be allowed to take on comparable tasks, modified to meet the requirements of their worldview.

A Mormon drama student at the University of Utah recently objected to “taking the Lord’s name in vain” and using “the f-word.” When she asked that she be allowed to change the words in class exercises and plays to which she was assigned, she was informed that her grade would suffer if she did so. In the resulting court case, the federal district court found that she could not exempt herself from the requirements of her studies and that if she desired to avoid those requirements, she had the option of choosing another major. The case has been appealed.

Freedom of the Press (39)

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A jailed news gatherer can be released for many reasons. Occasionally, the news gatherer will “purge” the contempt by turning over the subpoenaed information. In other instances, an appellate court will uphold the privilege and overturn the contempt order. If the news gatherer demonstrates enough resolve to convince the judge that the information never will be provided and that further jail time is futile, some judges will release the news gatherer. News gatherers also often are released when the proceeding in which they were subpoenaed (the trial or grand jury session) ends, or when the information for which they were subpoenaed is obtained from another source.

See this compilation, Branzburg v. Hayes, reporters’ privilege & circuit courts.

Many states have implemented procedures to allow for electronic access to court records. Most have come to the conclusion, through committee studies, that the public should be able to access court records, regardless of the medium in which they are stored.

However, states have realized that there are additional privacy concerns when dealing with electronic access to court records. Many states respond to this issue by allowing electronic access only to nonconfidential court records, as long as certain types of sensitive, personal information are removed from the records. This would include Social Security, credit card and financial account numbers, etc.

Most states have reached the conclusion that electronic access to court records should be provided in a way that is consistent with the fundamental right of public access to court records. States have further concluded that narrowly tailored exceptions to public access are acceptable, as long as states do not make broad categorical limitations as to what the public can request. Almost all states will deny the public’s access to electronic records if the state has an interest in secrecy that outweighs the public’s right of access to a particular document.

Some state courts have also made digital audio recordings of courtroom proceedings publicly available online. The U.S. District Court in Nebraska and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina were the first to make such recordings available, and several other courts have joined that movement.

In 2007, the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press conducted a state-by-state analysis of online access to court records.

No. Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can publish information as they see fit, biased or not. If published information is libelous, the publication can be sued by the person claiming to be libeled. But the federal government does not and cannot regulate newspaper content.

Gag orders are increasingly common. A survey conducted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press tracked 43 gag orders in 26 states and the District of Columbia between Feb. 1 and April 20, 2000. Among the Reporters Committee’s findings were:

  • Most of the orders were imposed, even though the trial judge did not conduct hearings to determine whether there were less-drastic means to ensure a fair trial.
  • Eighteen of the 43 orders were imposed in civil rather than criminal cases, including some in cases in which governmental entities were parties.
  • A federal judge in Lubbock, Texas, entered gag orders in nearly all of his cases — a total of 219 cases in two years.

A blog, or Web log, is generally described as an online journal or diary where individuals can post their thoughts on a subject for the world to see and read. Many, however, disagree over the definition of a blog. Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, stated in an interview with the First Amendment Center Online that there is no clear definition of “blogging”: “[The term] is worse than useless, because it is an empty vessel into which people can — and do — pour whatever meaning suits them at the time. … Blogging is writing.”

Freedom of Religion (89)

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In these guidelines, a “cooperative arrangement” is defined as a shared participation in specific programs and activities in accordance with a written agreement. Before entering into a cooperative arrangement, public schools and religious communities should understand and accept the following principles:

  • Under the First Amendment, public schools must be neutral concerning religion in all of their activities. School officials must take the necessary steps to ensure that any cooperative activities that take place are wholly secular. Persons invited to address students during the school day shall be advised of this requirement and must agree to abide by it before being allowed access to students
  • Students have the right to engage in, or decline to engage in, religious activities at their own initiative, so long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. School districts are urged to adopt policies that reflect recent consensus statements on current law concerning religion in public schools. “Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law,” the U.S. Department of Education’s guidelines on “Religious Expression in Public Schools,” and other consensus guidelines are available: Write to the First Amendment Center Online to request copies.

Cooperative programs between religious institutions and the public schools are permissible only if:

  • Participation in programs is not limited to religious groups. That is, schools must be open to participation by all responsible community groups. Qualifications should not be established which have the practical effect of including only religious groups. Eligibility shall be stated in writing
  • A student’s grades, class ranking or participation in any school program will not be affected by his or her willingness to participate or not participate in a cooperative program with a religious institution
  • Student participation in any cooperative program may not be conditioned on membership in any religious group, acceptance or rejection of any religious belief, or participation (or refusal to participate) in any religious activity.

Decisions about what to do in December should begin with the understanding that public schools may not sponsor religious devotions or celebrations; study about religious holidays does not extend to religious worship or practice.

Yes. Students are free to share their faith with their peers, as long as the activity is not disruptive and does not infringe upon the rights of others.

School officials possess substantial discretion to impose rules of order and other pedagogical restrictions on student activities. But they may not structure or administer such rules to discriminate against religious activity or speech.

This means that students have the same right to engage in individual or group prayer and religious discussion during the school day as they do to engage in other comparable activities. For example, students may read their Bibles or other scriptures, say grace before meals, and pray before tests. Generally, students may share their faith or pray in a nondisruptive manner when not engaged in school activities or instruction, subject to the rules that normally pertain in the applicable setting. Specifically, students in informal settings, such as cafeterias and hallways, may pray and discuss their religious views with each other, subject to the same rules of order as applied to other student activities and speech. Students may also speak to and attempt to persuade their peers about religious topics just as they do with regard to political topics. School officials, however, should intercede if a student’s speech begins to constitute harassment of a student or group of students.

Students may also participate in before- or after-school events with religious content, such as “See You at the Pole” gatherings, on the same terms as they may participate in other noncurriculum activities on school premises. School officials may neither discourage nor encourage participation in such an event. Keep in mind, however, that the right to engage in voluntary prayer or religious discussion free from discrimination does not necessarily include the right to preach to a “captive audience,” like an assembly, or to compel other students to participate. To that end, teachers and school administrators should work to ensure that no student is in any way coerced — either psychologically or physically — to participate in a religious activity (see Lee v. Weisman, 1992).

The application of the “compelling interest” test, established by the Supreme Court in 1963 in Sherbert v. Verner, was sharply curtailed by the 1990 Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith. But some states — such as Florida, Texas and Connecticut — have passed laws requiring the use of a compelling-interest test in free-exercise cases. Moreover, since most cases involving public schools involve more than one constitutional right (e.g., the religion claim can be linked with a parental right or free-speech claim), some might argue that the compelling-interest test must be used even under Smith.

Regardless of how this is eventually settled in the courts, public schools fulfill the spirit of the First Amendment when they use the Sherbert test to accommodate the religious claims of students and parents where feasible.

Some teachers prefer not to answer the question, believing that it is inappropriate for a teacher to inject personal beliefs into the classroom. Other teachers may choose to answer the question directly and succinctly in the interest of an open and honest classroom environment.

Before answering the question, however, teachers should consider the age of the students. Middle and high school students may be able to distinguish between a personal conviction and the official position of the school; very young children may not. In any case, the teacher may answer at most with a brief statement of personal belief — but may not turn the question into an opportunity to proselytize for or against religion. Teachers may neither reward nor punish students because they agree or disagree with the religious views of the teacher.

First of all, any holiday display erected on private property is immune from any constitutional challenges. Secondly, if an individual or group of individuals decide to set up a holiday display on public property (i.e. parks, courthouses, town halls, etc) he should petition the appropriate authorities for authorization to erect such a display. If the site has been home to a variety of religious displays in the past, it is likely permission will be granted.

Freedom of Assembly (13)

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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.

This freedom protects the right of people to meet and publicly support a cause or message. It also protects the right of people not to be affiliated with certain messages or ideas. For example, the government cannot force expressive associations to accept unwanted members who would impair the effectiveness of the group. Nor can the government force people to support undesirable causes through required fees or dues as part of belonging to a group.

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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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.

No, courts have stated that school officials do not have to wait for an actual disruption or riot.  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals explained in Karp v. Becken (1973): “The First Amendment does not require school officials to wait until disruption actually occurs before they may act.”

This where the “reasonable forecast” part of the standard comes in play.   In Dodd v. Rambis (S.D. 1981), a federal district court judge reasoned that students’ distribution of leaflets urging fellow students to engage in another student walkout was substantially disruptive to school activities.  The judge explained: “The First Amendment does not require school officials to forestall action until disruption of the educational system actually occurs. Indeed, this is the very essence of the forecast rule.”

For example, in many cases involving Confederate flag garb, courts have reasoned that a significant amount of race-based tension at the school is enough to satisfy the “reasonable forecast of substantial” disruption standard.

Usually, courts find that student walkouts are substantially disruptive under the Tinker standard.  They focus on the fact that classes and class schedules are disrupted and the students who remain in school are distracted.

Furthermore, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Corales v. Bennett (2009) reasoned that a high school’s anti-truancy policy was a “content neutral rule that furthers an important interest unrelated to the suppression of expression.”  The appeals court explained that the anti-truancy rule “furthers several substantial government interests, including enforcing compulsory education, keeping minors safe from the influences of the street, maximizing school funding based on attendance  and limiting potential liability for negligent failure to supervise a truant student properly.”

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.”

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.

Power Shift Project (0)

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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.