Free Speech, Banned Books, and Civil Discourse
The United States Supreme Court in Island Trees School District v. Pico in 1982 held that libraries are places for “voluntary inquiry” and concluded that the school board’s “absolute discretion” over the classroom did not extend to the library for that reason. Recently, students in Duluth, Minnesota found out that classic books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird were being pulled from the shelves. Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction of the Duluth Public Schools District, stated that this was done because, “The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable.”
Debating Free Speech on Campus
Free Speech or "Safe" Speech? In recent weeks, college campuses around the country have experienced major student protests. These students claim that colleges promote hostile environments that harm minority students and hinder their ability to learn. To solve these problems, students have demanded that college administrators and faculty create “safe-spaces” in which offensive or disagreeable speech is prohibited and punished. These demands have sparked debate about the nature of free speech, individual rights, and higher education.
How Has Speech Been Both Limited and Expanded, and How Does it Apply to You and Your School?
The Founders meant for the First Amendment to protect a wide array of expressive activities. The Supreme Court, recognizing changes in society and technology, has applied the First Amendment's protections in some ways that are broader than ever. Student speech in public schools, however, poses unique questions. This lesson will help students to understand the operation of the First Amendment in both their school and in the wider context of society, and it will help foster students' appreciation of their rights, preparing them for responsible and effective participation in their school, community, and nation.