Ultimate Free Speech Confusion

School campuses have stepped a bit too far into the parental household with a Supreme Court case that dismantles the education system’s ability to discipline children for speech off-campus. Is there a reach too far for educational intervention?

Supreme Court case Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. has proven that free speech exists in the United States at any age. Mahanoy High School, located in Mahanoy, Pennsylvania, didn’t make the varsity cheerleading team and took to the social media app Snapchat to vent. The student made inappropriate gestures and used the F-word in defiance of the decision. The school system suspended the student for one year when the video made it is way back to the faculty staff in charge of the cheerleading squad. Snapchat posts are supposed to disappear forever. However, it isn’t necessarily Snapchat storing messages, but who opens them and records or takes a screenshot. It is a significant win for free speech and to lessen staff’s ability at educational facilities to discipline students for conduct off-campus.

Free speech has inevitably been under attack for quite some time.

The district-level court and the Appellate court sided with the student after the student’s parents and the American Civil Liberties Union teamed up and filed the suit. The issue is not educational. There are many instances where parental guidance should take center stage in disciplinary action. When dealing with the emotions of a teenager, it’s pretty ridiculous to expect kids to act like an adult. Male brains don’t fully develop until age 25, and female brains don’t develop until 21 years old.

The contrast between regular educational disciplinary actions and Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. are unjustly distributed. A suspension for a physical altercation and illegal activity usually does not equate to a 1-year hiatus. Is it fair to say that venting on social media should carry a harsher punishment?

In 1969, Tinker v. Des Mois Independent School District outlined free speech on educational premises. The case was based on students protesting the Vietnam war by wearing armbands. It stated that teachers nor students “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” This decision was reached in a 7-2 vote. In contrast, the court upheld the school’s right to limit political speech in some cases.

Another determination of the student’s speech could have been the Miller test, also known as the three-prong obscenity test. It is used to determine whether speech is obscene and is not protected or covered under the First Amendment.

The test components are:

  1. Whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to a prurient interest
  2. Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law
  3. Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

Under no circumstances does ranting on the internet meet those standards.

At any level of the judiciary process, keeping free speech free is a win. Moral values should be taught at home and expressed in the open. Continuing to give parents the ability to stay disciplinary action in their home is vital to the free society. Adults and children alike should learn and teach accountability and conduct in a way that demonstrates accountability extends not only to oneself but also to those around them.