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The Battle of Latta (2003-2013): Last stand for the Confederate flag (and the First Amendment) in public schools?

(04/14/13 9:42pm)

If you want to get technical about it, the Civil War has been over for 148 years. Still, sporadic fighting breaks out occasionally -- as it did in a South Carolina school district over the right to wear a Confederate flag to school. When the encyclopedia of student free-speech law is written, an entire chapter will be needed just to encompass Confederate battle flag cases.



Federal "harassment" agreement with University of Montana exposes journalists to risk of discipline for writing about sex

(05/14/13 5:00pm)

New federal guidance about what constitutes sexually harassing speech on college campuses appear to expand the definition of "harassment" to include harmless references to sexual topics, even those in student media. Two federal agencies, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education, announced a settlement last week in their investigation of the University of Montana-Missoula, which was accused of responding lackadaisically to campus sexual assaults.



Hazelwood outbreak alert! Infectious Supreme Court ruling jumps the Pacific.

(05/30/13 3:19pm)

A federal court in Hawaii has become the latest to apply the Supreme Court's Hazelwood standard -- a ruling about the rights of kids attending K-12 schools -- to the First Amendment claims of an adult-age college student. In a ruling issued last month, a federal district judge threw out the claims of a University of Hawaii senior, Mark L.


Louisville student's sarcastic delivery-room blog births a bad First Amendment outcome

(06/01/13 4:17pm)

Posting on social media about stuff you see at work is risky business. When you're enrolled in college, it's downright hazardous. The University of Minnesota disciplined a mortuary science student who made flippant remarks on Facebook about the corpse she was assigned to dissect.


Going off-script: Can schools punish graduation speakers for voicing personal opinions?

(06/17/13 6:30pm)

A Texas graduation speaker goes off-script to complain about being forced to water down the religious message of his speech, and the school unplugs the microphone. A Florida commencement speaker pauses, and -- fearing a deviation from the prepared text -- his principal stops the speech and has him removed by security guards. An Oklahoma graduation speaker lets loose with an improvised wisecrack using the word "hell," and the school withholds her diploma. Each year around this time, some of America's top high school graduates get an unwanted parting "lesson" from their schools about the limits of the First Amendment. Although the Supreme Court famously told us in 1969 that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," the Court's subsequent pronouncement in Hazelwood School District v.


Federal rulings in Florida, Michigan push back against Hazelwood's advancing tide

(06/25/13 9:00am)

When a student voices a personal opinion during school -- even during class -- that opinion is entitled to a high degree of First Amendment protection, and it may neither be proscribed nor punished absent concrete evidence that it provoked a disruptive reaction or was imminently likely to do so. That has been the law for some 44 years, since the Supreme Court decided Tinker v.





"State of the First Amendment" survey finds 1/3 of Americans think the First Amendment goes too far

(07/16/13 4:31pm)

One-third of Americans think the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” the First Amendment Center reported today. Results of a Newseum Institute survey sponsored by the FAC revealed that while 34 percent of Americans think the First Amendment guarantees too many rights, many of those surveyed didn’t have a good grasp on the rights it includes.



Bad taste, bad law: In "Hot for Teacher" case, federal court flunks First Amendment 101

(07/30/13 4:57pm)

By any standard, Joseph Corlett displayed questionable taste in a series of journal entries he submitted for a college writing assignment. Because of that poor judgment, Corlett is receiving little public sympathy after his Michigan college suspended him for making lustful comments about his instructor in a writing assignment. On July 23, a federal district judge found no First Amendment violation in Oakland University's decision to suspend Corlett on a charge of harassment. There is no disputing that Corlett's journal entries -- comparing his English professor to "Gilligan's Island" sex-symbol Ginger and generally "hubba-hubba-ing" over her appearance -- were unbecoming to a married 57-year-old businessman. But the federal court's ruling takes dangerous liberties with the law of the First Amendment.



Ninth Circuit gives school officials (limited) license to punish students' threatening online speech

(09/05/13 2:07pm)

Whether public schools can regulate students' off-campus speech just as if the speech occurred on campus is a recurring legal issue that will arise with increasing frequency now that state legislatures are putting schools into the business of policing online bullying. The Ninth Circuit U.S.



Ninth Circuit latest to exempt publicly employed teachers from Garcetti speech restrictions

(09/10/13 10:36am)

It’s illegal for public agencies to discipline teachers for statements they make, if those statements are a "matter of public concern," a federal appeals court ruled last week. Most public employees can be disciplined for making statements their bosses don’t like, even if it might seem like they are protected by the First Amendment.