By Scott Tibbs, April 21, 2005
A follow-up to my open letter to the MCCSC School Board on free speech.
There is a large difference between messages on clothing that some people find "offensive" and targeting individual students for teasing, taunting, bullying, or assault. I've said many times that we are laying the foundation of another Columbine if we don't start taking bullying seriously.
These girls are not alleged to have taunted or teased specific individuals. When it comes to speech on political or social issues, government must err on the side of freedom.
No one is disputing that students don't have the right to target individual students for taunting, bullying, etc. That isn't free speech. What the girls were doing is making a statement on a cultural/social/political issue. Was the method of speech aggressive? Would it have been better to use different wording to get their point across? Probably yes to both. But censorship of opinions you find "offensive" or that hurts someone's feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings cannot be practiced by a unit of government. I hope the parents of these girls sue MCCSC for damages.
What censorship supporters are suggesting is that high school students should have the "right" to be free from opinions that offend them. The very reason we have the First Amendment is to protect unpopular or "offensive" speech. Once you establish that unpopular or "offensive" speech is subject to censorship, you set a precedent that endangers all speech on political/cultural/social issues.
Furthermore, the claim that students who may have been "offended" by the shirts were required to be at school is a non sequitur. The teen's parents are free to send the kid to another school (or to home school their teen) if they so choose. They could also have stayed home on that day if they were fearful of being presented with an opinion that "offended" them.