Free Speech in and out of Schools: What Limits (if any) Are Appropriate?


The changing nature of technology is posing new issues and problems for previously established constitutional rights. For instance, in this age of Facebook and Twitter, speech that was once localized and temporary is now widespread and potentially permanent. This new reality is prompting teachers and principals to confront speech that is no longer contained solely in the classroom.

A recent law passed in North Carolina has made it a crime to post statements that would ‘intimidate or torment’ faculty. The law was prompted by teachers associations that have heard many complaints about inappropriate statements posted online by students that were, in the teachers’ views, libelous and damaging to their reputations. Legal experts are divided on whether the law is constitutional. The Supreme Court’s interpretation of free speech rights for students has varied. The 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines set the standard that First Amendment rights are protected on school grounds but that administrators may punish speech which is disruptive; however, the case law is far from settled with respect to off-campus speech.


Does the North Carolina law infringe upon students’ right to free speech? Why or why not?

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