A Speculation on Free Speech

The other day I found myself indulging in one of my many vices – reading the frivolous articles on Yahoo news. After scrolling through one insane article after another, primarily Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian news, I came across an interesting topic about freedom of speech in school.

The article was about a young senior girl in Colorado who took a raunchy picture and wanted to use it as her senior portrait in the school’s yearbook. After being flabbergasted by such blasphemy, the editors of the school’s yearbook immediately revoked the picture and insisted she choose a photo that was perhaps more appropriate and less revealing. Clearly experiencing built-up teen angst, the young girl saw this as an infringement of her freedom of speech via freedom of expression, and she began to petition and highlight what she thought was a wrongdoing.

In the case of the racy photo, one would think and hope the judgment was quite obvious: It was a school yearbook, and the school’s expectations of presenting appropriate and professional senior portraits should be prioritized,  not the young girl’s desire to express herself in such tacky garments.

Unfortunately, the young girl did not share the same opinion as her fellow peers and faculty. She is currently attempting to garner enough information and evidence to support what she is arguing as an injustice. If Anderson Cooper was looking for a segment for his next “The RidicuList,” this could be it. In what right mind does a child, and with the consent of her mother nonetheless, believe that provocative photos are a form of self-expression and appropriate in a school yearbook? I know a few other magazines where her pictures would be more than welcomed and praised, but a school yearbook is simply not one of them.

Freedom of speech in school is a serious and highly controversial topic that has been present for centuries. Freedom of speech in general is contentious, but what happens when you take a bill for a general society and try to implement it to schools? What standards are still applicable, and most importantly, what standards are not?

The late 20th century saw an important case in regards to freedom of speech in school in Bethel School District v. Fraser. Fraser, in nominating a fellow classmate, gave a speech incorporated with latent sexual jokes, and although not blatantly obscene, his speech was deemed inappropriate by the school officials. His punishment was suspension, but he believed his rights were being violated. After suing the school in the U.S. District Court, he surprisingly won. However, when taken up to the Supreme Court, they overturned the previous declaration and justified the suspension because the Supreme Court ruled that school officials are perfectly capable of extending their power beyond books and the curriculum as long as it is on school grounds or relates to school matters.

What really manages to astonish me in times like this is how such individuals can succumb to such an extent of delirium to where they actually believe it is okay to either submit a future Playboy spread or compose and perform a speech filled with sexual innuendos. Now, with this I am not saying that freedom of speech in schools should be severely limited with draconian laws, but since when is common sense not so common?

Another freedom of speech both inside and outside of school case appeared last Tuesday when students sued two Pennsylvania officials after they were suspended for posting unfavorable comments regarding them on the Internet. The students called faculty members vile names, and a few even stated that their principal was flirting with the underage children in his office. Such outrageous claims were condoned in this instance because they were made outside of school in the comfort of the students’ homes, and not on school grounds. In addition, such claims did not cause a riot in school or affect it in any manner, and thus, the faculty members’ actions were ruled unlawful.

The First Amendment is designed to give citizens the right to free expression, but has it lost its meaning over time?

We live in an age where technology has granted us the permission to post and say whatever we want. Although this sounds grand,  it has its detrimental effects, too. The tragic thing about this is that it allows us to post opinions without actually thinking thoroughly. What happened to the days where we simply wrote all our asininity and hate in a worn-out journal?

An interesting question that this most recent case explores: When does freedom of speech simply become slander and malice instead of a coherent and formulated opinion?

Sergio Flores is a second-year English major. He can be reached at sergiof1@uci.edu.