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Bullying or Free Speech?
May 29, 2012 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Guidelines [pdf] recently published by a coalition of religious liberty and free speech organizations caution educators against violating student rights when trying to enforce anti-bullying policies. Other groups, however, worry that concern for free speech rights may keep educators from effectively addressing bullying.

The guidelines suggest:
Prevention of harassment and bullying is essential for healthy, effective public schools. But that effort must not lead to excessive limitations on the constitutional right of students to freedom of expression.
The Anti-Defamation League counters:
The Guidelines issued this week emphasize students’ First Amendment rights over the responsibility to create a safe learning environment for all students – especially vulnerable minority, disabled, and LGBT students. While we agree that students’ free speech and religious expression rights are important, we strongly disagree with the Guidelines’ direct implication that such rights have been given short shrift in current federal and state law and policy and need greater protection.
Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim gives an overview of the different sides.

Via Howard Friedman's Religion Clause.
posted by audi alteram partem (66 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let's cross this bridge when students start killing thenselves because of the lack of free expression.
posted by munchingzombie at 2:47 PM on May 29, 2012 [21 favorites]


Why is it that any time religious liberty organizations start talking about free speech, the first thought that comes to mind is that they want the right to be cruel to queers and non-believers in the name of their belief system?
posted by hippybear at 2:50 PM on May 29, 2012 [13 favorites]


The problem here is that the word "freedom" means two distinct, but connected, things:

1. The freedom /to/ say or do something.
2. The freedom /from/ someone doing or saying things.

Some forums, I'm ok with there being curbs on what you can say. Public schools are one of those places where the burden of this freedom tension can be on the freedom-to side.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:51 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


from the PDF:
Schools should teach students that, as a general matter, there is no right to be free of speech one does not like, whether in school or elsewhere.

This whole pamphlet is ludicrous. Schools have a long history of suppressing speech, because it's the most obvious way to prevent conflict and (this is the real motivation) the work for school administrators that comes with conflict. They should do a lot of things, but won't. Much less mental effort to ban, suppress and threaten.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:55 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let's cross this bridge when students start killing thenselves because of the lack of free expression.

Are you advocating no balance? As in "kids should just not talk about anything potentially contentious?" Because that means that they shouldn't converse.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:58 PM on May 29, 2012


Schools should teach students that, as a general matter, there is no right to be free of speech one does not like, whether in school or elsewhere.

Yeah, I'm sort of like, hey y'all, get back to me when you're cool with not being free of speech about basic science and sexual health.
posted by brennen at 3:00 PM on May 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


Meh. The pamphlet is a reasonable summary of the law in vague consensus terms, but I don't trust school administrators (hell, most adults in positions of power) to be sufficiently concerned about either the First Amendment rights of minors or the right of children to be safe from non-expressive activites that run the risk of harming them.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2012


That "freedom to/freedom from" illustration pretty much only summons echoes of Aunt Lydia's re-education camp in The Handmaid's Tale, which means I just get chills whenever I hear hear someone say it, no matter what the context.

"There is more than one kind of freedom...Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it."
posted by hermitosis at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually had the impression that students were already subject to limitations of their free speech while at school. A quick search finds some legal precedent for this, even:
Bethel and Hazelwood, on the other hand, were victories for school administrators over the First Amendment claims of students. In Bethel, the Court upheld the right of Washington state high school administrators to discipline a student for delivering a campaign speech at a school assembly that was loaded with sexual innuendo. The Court expressed the view that administrators ought to have the discretion to punish student speech that violates school rules and has the tendency to interfere with legitimate educational and disciplinary objectives. In Hazelwood, the Court relied heavily on Bethel to uphold the right of school administrators to censor materials in a student-edited school paper that concerned sensitive subjects such as student pregnancy, or that could be considered an invasion of privacy.
http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/studentspeech.htm
posted by jacalata at 3:02 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


from the PDF:
Schools should teach students that, as a general matter, there is no right to be free of speech one does not like, whether in school or elsewhere.


The problem with this is the compulsory attendance factor going into school attendance.

If you're forced to be someplace, and that someplace is full of hateful speech directed toward you specifically or toward people like you generally, how can you possibly make a choice to "avert your gaze" or whatever the phrase is in the pamphlet?

I don't go to church because I don't want to hear that I'm a bad person because I'm gay. I'm not forced to be there, so I can avoid that speech. Laws exist (in my state, anyway) to protect me from having to hear it in the workplace, because that is less optional as far as attendance goes. If something is compulsory, like school attendance, then the laws there should be most supportive of people not being forced to hear speech they cannot turn away from.
posted by hippybear at 3:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


(So I think my comment above doesn't actually reflect the content of the pamphlet and isn't contributing anything to the discussion here. Sorry 'bout that. It's been a long day and I shouldn't be commenting on the Internet. Carry on.)
posted by brennen at 3:05 PM on May 29, 2012


Why is it that any time religious liberty organizations start talking about free speech, the first thought that comes to mind is that they want the right to be cruel to queers and non-believers in the name of their belief system?

I am pretty sure you know the answers, but just in-case others do not:

Old age?

Experience?

Cynicism? (Age + Experience + Emotional/Physical Pain)

Recent History?

Modern History?

Ancient History?
posted by jkaczor at 3:05 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


A student may wear a T-shirt proclaiming “Straight Pride” to counter another student’s “Gay Pride” T-shirt, or vice versa.

This is the point where the pamphlet takes the final step into YHBT HAND territory.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:08 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not old!
posted by hippybear at 3:10 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


No one has the right or freedom to lay the hate down on a captive audience. I was burning mad when my old school, North Allegheny, let some kid on stage for the talent show to prosteltize about the sins of homosexuality in front of my sister and her classmates.

It was a goddamn embarassment.
posted by Slackermagee at 3:13 PM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Are you advocating no balance? As in "kids should just not talk about anything potentially contentious?" Because that means that they shouldn't converse.

No. Queer children are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. I have been reading GLSEN's school climate survey for years and the findings are grim. The concern for free speech is ludicrous when we are trying to create a more humane environment through education an prevent thousands of children from killing themselves.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the guidelines PDF,

"With respect to sexual orientation and behavior, one student’s call for legalization of same-sex marriage may be perceived by another student as a challenge to his or her deeply held religious beliefs. Conversely, one student’s expression of his or her religious convictions concerning what he or she regards as sinful sexual behavior will be perceived by another student as suggesting that gay and lesbian students have no place in the school. A student may wear a T-shirt proclaiming “Straight Pride” to counter another student’s “Gay Pride” T-shirt, or vice versa."
These two positions are in no way equivalent.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:14 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


this is like the 1,000th example we've seen in the past 15 or so years of the right's successful strategy to co-opt the liberals' position as defender of the oppressed. it's masterful, really. too bad the left in this country *does not have a strategy at all, let alone a counter-strategy*. the right controls the terms of the debate 95% of the time, and this obvious bit of false equivalence is just another instance.
posted by facetious at 3:15 PM on May 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


No one has the right or freedom to lay the hate down on a captive audience

A million times this. I want my kids to go to school and learn facts - the fact that there are different cultures, religions and types of relationships - facts & the history of those. Most importantly - who was oppressed by whom, when, why? And what were the long-term ramifications and outcomes - because if those simple facts are not taught, we are doomed to repeat our failures, forever.

Opinions? (Which ultimately are the irrational basis for hate) - definately not - it is their job to classify their personal opinions based on the facts given (and in *theory* mine, if I was one of *those* type of parents). Opinions are a dime-a-dozen and subsequently worthless.
posted by jkaczor at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2012


So surprising that Christians want to stand up for bullies. Really, I'm shocked.
posted by empath at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm sure these fine organizations would support students who want to advocate repeal of the drug laws or ridicule religions without singling out any particular adherents.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 3:28 PM on May 29, 2012


Libertarian types like to pretend that free speech is a monolith unencumbered by the ideological structures we inhabit, and which inhabit us. The first amendment is a gigantic fraud--a gold brick foisted upon citizens of liberalism. Our entire political and economic system is skewed to ensure that one voice is freely disseminated amongst the people while dissenting voices only enjoy the illusion of such freedom.

To call for a "balance" between hurtful, violent and oppressive language or belief-systems and the right for those systems to "express themselves" utterly ignores the way speech happens: words supported by an entire power structure -- and those that aren't -- can't ever be free.
posted by Catchfire at 3:30 PM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've always had a question that I've never had answered. If anyone could answer this, it would be very helpful for me: Is there such thing as bullying that does not constitute harassment under existing law?

These guidelines are very well-written, but they don't seem to say anything to help out with this. If speech is harassment, it is not constitutionally protected since almost no-one, and most importantly, not the Supreme Court, find a right to harass people in the Constitution. Hence, there is no conflict that can arise.
posted by saeculorum at 3:46 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Schools have a long history of suppressing speech"

One of the reasons we homeschooled our kid.
posted by Ardiril at 4:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


In related news, theatre owners cautioned against violating audience members' rights when enforcing "no shouting fire in a crowded theatre" rules.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:08 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a staunch defender of free-speech rights, but as a formerly bullied kid I don't see how these guidelines will ever help the bullied, nor even how they'd help to protect the other kids' rights. My free-speech rights were always seen as less important than the popular kids' were, and this seemed to be unofficial policy right through high school. Bullies are the ones who get to have free speech in the schools, and until that dynamic changes no amount of guidelines will help -- they'll just be interpreted differently depending on who the kid in question is, just as the school rules themselves are. That's how the game works: free-speech rights will get used against the bullied, limits on free speech will get used against the bullied, and ignoring the issue of free speech entirely will also get used against the bullied. That right there is the entire point of being bullied.

I don't get why we persist in discussing bullying as if it's some mysterious thing kids do out of the blue, as opposed to something society and the schools permit, condone, and even encourage on an institutional basis. Most bullies are backed up by an entire community of people who know exactly what's up, and quietly applaud it -- they'll just tell you after the fact that they didn't think it would "go that far", is all.
posted by vorfeed at 4:10 PM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is there such thing as bullying that does not constitute harassment under existing law?

I'm not an expert on harassment law or bullying, but I think there is. Is it harassment to say that Tom smells bad and that's why you don't want to sit next to him? Is it harassment to say that only kids with x clothes/money can come to your party, or to systematically exclude one kid from everything?
posted by jacalata at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2012


"Is it harassment to say that only kids with x clothes/money can come to your party, or to systematically exclude one kid from everything?"

If those are considered bullying nowadays, the definition has indeed broadened beyond meaning.
posted by Ardiril at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


jacalata: Thanks for answering my question. Do you think it is appropriate for the school to punish a student for merely saying that Tom smells bad without any other aggravating circumstances? Similarly, should the school mandate that all kids are invited to parties discussed at school?

I'm trying to figure out what sort of student behavior anti-bullying activists are trying to prevent that isn't already illegal, and it's surprisingly hard to figure out. I do appreciate the efforts to get school administration to pay some modicum of attention to the law and to school policy rather than turning a blind eye to misbehaving students.
posted by saeculorum at 4:23 PM on May 29, 2012


No one has the right or freedom to lay the hate down on a captive audience.

I find such sentiments tempting, but only when I imagine myself being in the position of deciding what is hateful and what is not. They're much less tempting when I imagine more realistic scenarios: "Rush Limbaugh, the newly appointed anti-bullying czar, has just issued new anti-bullying subject-matter regulations to end hate in the classroom."
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:36 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, "Free Speech" - the preferred refuge of trolls and assholes far and wide. We'd certainly hate for bigots and homophobes to be SILENCED ALL THEIR LIVES.

To the modern conservative mind, religious people are "persecuted" when they are not permitted to persecute others. It's childish and embarrassing and entirely predictable.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:37 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Harassment is not protected speech. Stating a general opinion is not harassment, even if it's an ugly opinion. Threatening, intimidating and grievously insulting someone is harassment. It has never been, nor should it be, protected speech.

"Homosexuality is a sin," is protected speech.

"You're a fucking faggot and you will burn in hell," is harassment.

There may be cases where things can get a little blurry, but intent and context (repetition and targeted victims) are important clues to whether it's bullying or not.
posted by tommyD at 5:18 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


"whether it's bullying or not" - If that is what is considered bullying, no wonder the conservatives are up in arms. I have always worked from a definition of bullying that includes violence or the real threat of violence. I had no idea the concept had lapsed over into metaphor-land.
posted by Ardiril at 5:37 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, Ardiril, let me see if I understand. You would consider a kid saying, "I'm going to punch you in the face!" to be bullying, but not "you're a fucking faggot and you will burn in hell"? To me, while there's no threat of violence, the shaming and ostracizing nature of the second comment is definitely bullying. It's not an "I don't like you" statement, it's a "you're a bad person" statement. Does that make sense?
posted by epj at 5:42 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bullying can be psychological, not just physical. Never invited to parties, shunned on the playground or in the cafeteria, always picked last for sports or class group projects... basically established as the "other" in all matters pertaining to school and the social structure contained there. Those things do deep harm to a person, perhaps even worse harm than being beaten up because the internalized message is that one is pariah, not even worth touching to hurt physically.
posted by hippybear at 5:42 PM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


hippybear: Which of those examples that you mentioned should be legislated away and how should that legislation be worded?
posted by saeculorum at 5:52 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


In addition to the 'freedom-to/freedom-from' dichotomy (which is specious, if you ask me), there's also two sides to every freedom in the positive and negative sense. The right to free speech is supposed to be balanced by at least some human standard of social decency and the comensurate right we all enjoy not to say every stupid, cruel, insensitive or ignorant thing that happens to come to mind. God help us if we're actually living in an age when we've forgotten that every positive or negative right we enjoy as members of a society also comes with corresponding social obligations, responsibilities and risks that have to be weighed when we exercise them. A shame we don't have some public system of some sort for teaching that to our children.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:03 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


saeculorum: I refer you to Connecticut Public Act 11-232. It pretty much covers any of all of those things.
posted by hippybear at 6:06 PM on May 29, 2012


A strong anti-bullying program won't focus on assembling a blacklist of verboten phrases or terms -- this is what free speech fetishists never seem to understand; rather, it will aim to impress upon children that bullying is an act of power: of excluding, demeaning, humiliating, belittling or outright physically harming through acts or language. But in all cases, it is a question of power and how that power is exercised. Bullying won't be eliminated from our schools until we--students, parents, teachers, administrators--take seriously the question of inequality in all its forms and work through its consequences in the classroom.
posted by Catchfire at 6:10 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pretty much my only experience with bullying is secondhand - as a 17 year old, I coached an under 11 hockey team. I discovered at the end of the year that half the team had spent the last six months telling one of the kids that he was terrible, would never get better, shouldn't be on the team, and nobody wanted him there. I had had no idea, and his mother was surprisingly forgiving of that. I consider that to be most definitely bullying, and probably quite upsetting to the kid in question.

I don't know if it's possible to 'punish' this away, but I think it is certainly possible for a school to say that this is not ok, to tell the kids to knock it off every time someone walks past the poor kid holding his nose, etc. There is a wide range between egging them on and giving them detention, and my ideal legislation would allow for the teachers and school staff to use their judgment to discourage such behaviour. Schools have certainly given detention or other punishments for behaviour that is not illegal and I don't think that legality should be the bar for punishment of children.

Note that when you look for 'behaviour anti-bullying activists are trying to prevent that isn't already illegal', you are probably missing the fact that a lot of behaviour is already illegal, but not treated as such. The legal system is not and should not be the only way to affect children's behaviour. Do you think that a ten year old who trips another kid running through the playground should be charged with assault? (I don't, for the record). If not, should the school still respond to this behaviour?

On preview: the Connecticut Act looks like the sort of thing I'd imagine - it doesn't require particular responses (from the summary at least), but it requires that there be responses.
posted by jacalata at 6:14 PM on May 29, 2012


ok cool, the first amendment is bullshit, let's fix that

oh and by the way now that that's been fixed we have no way to protect speech against these corporations and these right-wing ideological groups

my point is not that hate speech is good or that i am for this

it's that they really do have us both coming and going
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:18 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


hippybear: Thanks for the citation. I don't get how Public Act 11-232 prevents students from not inviting other students to their parties. From the law:
"Bullying" means (A) the repeated use by one or more students
of a written, oral or electronic communication [...] or (B) a physical act or gesture by one or more students repeatedly directed at another student attending school in the same school district
My (non-lawerly) of the law is that you actually have to say something or do something to bully someone - merely disliking them intensely would not be regulated. I'm not trying to be argumentative here, I'm trying to figure out what it is we're trying to fix. I must admit that I find the idea of preventing students from not inviting certain other students to parties to be more than a bit creepy.

jacalata: Let me be clear here - I absolutely support laws that force schools to enforce their own policies. Schools should have policies against assault, harassment, and intimidation. The schools should enforce those policies, and the school should enforce those policies vigorously. I'm not suggesting that the legal system be used, but I do want a legal definition of what's inappropriate. We have existing legal definitions of things like assault, harassment, and intimidation. If policies against assault, harassment, and intimidation are followed, your example, and every other example I read that's more serious than "someone wasn't invited to a party" would be fixed. What I'm trying to figure out is if these laws are trying to prevent anything more than assault, harassment, or intimidation.

If the answer is "no", then you and I are on the same page. To be more clear, if bullying laws don't make current legal protections against harassment and the like more strict or broad, then no one should disagree with the guidelines suggested by the religious organizations in the OP, since the guidelines are consistent with existing legal principles.

If the answer is "yes", then I want to know an example of something that should be banned, but is not assault, harassment, or intimidation. I'm still not sure I know of such a thing that should be banned.
posted by saeculorum at 6:40 PM on May 29, 2012


You seem pretty stuck on the whole "not invited to parties" thing and not seeing it as one small part of general social ostracism which is itself a form of bullying.

But, I can't make you see it as a small part of a larger pattern. So I don't know what really to say. Bullying takes many forms, even if you don't recognize some of them as valid.
posted by hippybear at 6:55 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


To be more clear, if bullying laws don't make current legal protections against harassment and the like more strict or broad, then no one should disagree with the guidelines suggested by the religious organizations in the OP, since the guidelines are consistent with existing legal principles.

Clearly, if something something something, then I win.
posted by facetious at 6:58 PM on May 29, 2012


I must admit that I find the idea of preventing students from not inviting certain other students to parties to be more than a bit creepy.

I find the idea of preventing employees from not inviting certain other employees to lunch to be more than a bit creepy, too, but if lunchtime ostracism starts to have an impact on work, the boss is probably going to talk to somebody. Likewise, not getting invited to a party is no big deal; being aggressively uninvited to every party and then generally tormented about everything, party-related-and-non, until you hate school is a problem. It should be addressed, even if just by the teacher saying "I see what you're doing to Suzy, and it's not OK -- if you do it again there'll be consequences."

I mean, are we really arguing about whether it's "creepy" for children to be taught to play nicely?
posted by vorfeed at 7:18 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Speaking as a school board member, one of the problems with bullying w/r/t current intimidation laws, etc., is that, first, authorities are quite reluctant to charge minors with "intimidation" or "harassment" for teasing and taunting. (For starters, you could probably clog up the entire judicial system with nothing but 15-year-olds saying stupid shit to each other.) Second, police authorities who work with schools are generally a lot more concerned with drugs and with actual physical violence. Third, one outcome when a "bullying" case ends up in the court system (whether criminal or civil court) is often a restraining order, which is a NIGHTMARE when both students have a right to a public education. (I have noticed this is especially frequent with girls; I don't know if girls' parents bring suits against each other more often, or if judges are more likely to give restraining orders to girls, or what.)

High-profile troll-bait-y cases to the contrary, protecting free speech in school tends to be more about protecting students in minority groups or with unpopular political/social positions (including GBLT students) than about protecting majority groups' rights to be nasty. Well, at least around here.

More of our bullying seems to revolve around a student or group of students deciding to pick on a particular victim (sometimes because the two students have a beef of some sort, sometimes because the victim is socially vulnerable and an easy target), and then latching on to reasons to bully the victim. That is, aggressor doesn't bully the victim because she's lesbian; she bullies the victim because she's angry that the victim got a leadership position on the homecoming committee and latches on to the fact that her victim is lesbian as a way to score more hurtful attacks. It's still bullying and it still sucks and it still means that any vulnerable or minority population will be attacked about that characteristic, but it's pretty rare we see a bullying case start where a student goes, "Well, I don't like gay people so I'm going to pick on one." It's usually "I don't like THIS KID, oh he's gay, I bet I can mock him for that." (Of course part of the not-liking dynamic doubtless has to do with otherness, but you get my drift.)

A shocking lot of the bullying we see, and it boggles my mind, is the FAMILY of a bully actually urging on the bullying of the victim, often using social media, on and off-campus. Sometimes it's because the victim did something the family sees as offensive to the bully, but an awful lot of time it's because the victim's older sister got a date with the aggressor's older sister's ex-boyfriend, or something. Those are, maybe weirdly, the cases that escalate to actual violence the most quickly. (Maybe not. I guess if your PARENTS are egging you on about it, you may be more willing to get violent.)

I don't know that I can answer too many questions about the law involved -- it's somewhat in flux in our state, and we're trying to be very sensitive to developing understandings of what bullying is and how negatively it can affect children and how it can be best combated -- but I'm happy to try to answer questions about the practical side of making policies about free speech, bullying, and their intersection, and about what happens when there's a problem serious enough that it goes through the school system's disciplinary system to the school board. I see a lot of the worst cases, when we're into "permanent record" territory, and I talk to a lot of parents in less-bad cases.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:22 PM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


In my experience, though, bullying is also sometimes impersonal. As a kid, more than once, I let a mob of bloodthirsty kids on the playground goad me into a fight I never should have had. When I first realized that it was peer pressure--the elbow in my back and the chorus of kids squealing, "Ooooooh! You gonna let him hit you like that?"--peer pressure that was putting those insults in my mouth, peer pressure that was making me punch this meek little kid. There had been whispers up and down the halls all day, claims circulating about what new insult one or the other of us had hurled at the other. It was very Lord of the Flies, elementary school; sometimes this weird sort of generalized playground blood lust would flare up, and all the kids would conspire to make some other kids fight just to relieve the collective boredom. Do you see that sort of mob mentality driven bullying much?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:26 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or have we entered a phase of issues oriented bullying--i.e., kids getting singled out for mob abuse ostensibly for being gay, or for not being Christian, or not liking sports, etc.?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this discussion is weird. Of course children do not have the fundamental freedoms recognised by the USAn constitution. If they don't have liberty in their persons, why would they have freedom of speech?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:51 PM on May 29, 2012


I think this discussion is weird.

America's been weird about this stuff lately; we seem to collectively be on some kind of paranoid, koch-fueled freedom kick.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:01 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The coke-fueled freedom kicks of the 1970s were more fun, I think.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 PM on May 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm conflicted on this because where speech is concerned I'm totally a "freedom to" person. On the other hand I hate schoolkids and would happily see the little beasts rendered essentially mute until they're about sixteen.
posted by Decani at 12:44 AM on May 30, 2012


If you can't be all 'yo, motherfucker' to teachers, why would you be allowed to be all 'yo, [offensive/sexism/racism]' to other students.
posted by ersatz at 4:28 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course these sorts of Christians love bullies. They worship one.
posted by Legomancer at 5:10 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't find it surprising that conservative, homophobic religious groups want to shield homophobic speech under the guise of free speech. I did find it surprising that the First Amendment Center would join them.
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:31 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I actually had the impression that students were already subject to limitations of their free speech while at school.

Yes, but that goes only so far.

There are some recent school-speech t-shirt cases applying Bethel and Hazelwood that would be relevant. Wiki links this morning, because I can't be bothered.

Guiles v. Marineau, 461 F.3d 320 (2nd. Cir. 2006) -- GWB chicken hawk in chief T-shirt, w/alcohol and cocaine imagery -- requiring it to be obscured with tape was unconstitutional.


but

Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393 (2007) -- The Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent educators from suppressing student speech in the form of a T-Shirt proclaiming "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," worn at a school function where it might be seen as promoting illegal drug use.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2012


Note: Bong Hits 4 Jesus was a banner at an event, not a t-shirt. Memory fail.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:15 AM on May 30, 2012


> Some forums, I'm ok with there being curbs on what you can say. Public schools are one of
> those places where the burden of this freedom tension can be on the freedom-to side.

I'm with you. As long as school is opt-out at the student's will, rather than must-be-there.
posted by jfuller at 7:18 AM on May 30, 2012


Of course these sorts of Christians love bullies. They worship one.

No they don't. They may be bullies and acting in reprehensible ways but the 4 gospels are full of tales of Christ going out of his way to include the lowliest members of society. Lepers, minority groups, widows and the like. People who were bullied in that time and place. It is unfortunate that modern evangelical churches have latched on to a couple of old testament verses about being gay (and my understanding is that it is pretty sketchy exactly what the passages are talking about in the original Greek(?)) written by and for a bunch of stone age goat farmers who were constantly at war with all their neighbors.

But don't go spouting off about the teachings of a religion you apparently don't actually know anything about.

BTW I am currently atheist and was brought up in baptist/Methodist churches and very active as a youth. I was also active in calling out a bunch of bullshit the church leaders had about just what Christ said, critical thinking, and group inclusion. This is one reason why I no longer go to church. This does not make one popular (in case you didn't know it).
posted by bartonlong at 10:31 AM on May 30, 2012


No they don't. They may be bullies and acting in reprehensible ways but the 4 gospels are full of tales of Christ going out of his way to include the lowliest members of society.

I think the comment was alluding to the fact that many of the most vocal current Christian types prefer to think of themselves as Old Time Religionists, who seem to think Christianity never got past the Ten Commandments, an Eye-for-an-Eye and mandatory stonings for homosexuals and sexually abused women. In other words, the bully in question is the Old Testament conception of YWH, who smites people on a whim and sits around makes bets with Satan about how one of his most devoted followers (Job) might react if he were suddenly personally targeted for persecution by YWH himself.

That God certainly does come across as a bully, and in fact, in traditional Christian theology (as opposed to the new marketing friendlier stuff that's got so much traction these days), the New Testament and Christ's sacrifice were supposed to represent a clean break with the old order of the world and the spiteful, brutal and capricious way YWH used to run things before he made the new covenant with man through Christ (which, incidentally, was the first covenant God struck with mankind in the general case, instead of just the descendants of Abraham--most of the various deals YWH struck with mankind in the Old Testament were limited to only his chosen people, while in the New Testament, YWH through Jesus suddenly becomes strikingly more broadminded, caring and generous than in those bad old days).

In other words, the point is, a lot of modern Christians aren't doing it that way anymore. These days many seem to be more interested in worshiping the fire and brimstone God of the Old Testament than in following their own ostensible spiritual leader in Christ.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:49 AM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Do you see that sort of mob mentality driven bullying much? ... Or have we entered a phase of issues oriented bullying--i.e., kids getting singled out for mob abuse ostensibly for being gay, or for not being Christian, or not liking sports, etc.?"

I had to really think about this and reflect on it. I think we DON'T see as much of the fights-to-relieve-boredom mob-mentality bullying as there used to be, and I think a large part of that is that schools are so zero-tolerance about fighting. When I was in high school it wasn't like there were a lot of fights, but when there were it was treated more as "boys will be boys," or blowing off steam, or getting a fight out of the way so they could be friends again -- you know the kind of thing. Detention was somewhat common but not invariably applied. These days students get suspended for even fairly minor physical violence (such as a single slap), and for what is actually called "mob action" (where a bunch of people are involved), they will frequently get expelled. So it DOES happen, but the price for fighting just to fight has gotten pretty high. The actual police also usually get involved and charges are often brought when it's a multi-party fight, because of the constant concern that gangs are using proxies inside schools to bring inter-gang issues into high schools (or even junior highs, although thank God that hasn't been an issue around here yet).

Our high schools, in my district, are big enough, and diverse enough, that there's not a lot of issue-oriented bullying, because kids can find their niche. (High school football is popular at one of our schools, for example, but I'm sure I could come up with 100 seniors who've never been to a game and don't care.) Also because a lot of anti-bullying training, for students AND teachers, has focused around not discriminating or bullying because of race/sexuality/religion/etc. It does happen, but it happens rarely enough that we notice it when it does, and we've had few enough students victimized that way that the principals, superintendent, office of student affairs, and Board have been able to pay fairly close attention to pretty much every one this year. We discuss not just what sort of discipline the bully should face, but we ask what sorts of supports/interventions the victim wants too -- if the victim wants to change schools, we generally allow that. If the victim wants to stay put, we agree it's super-unfair for a victim to have to change THEIR life because of a bully, and we will restrict the bully instead. We usually can't just move the bully to a different school unless the incidents rise to a certain level, but we can put the bully on a sort of in-school probation where they're forbidden to speak to or about the victim, where the bully's schedule is rearranged to keep them away from the victim, where the bully is prohibited from extracurricular activities, etc., and if the bully violates the probation, they can then be expelled. (There's a lot of procedural stuff, but that's the gist.) We also have a "peer court" at one of our high schools that's been fairly effective in dealing with (some cases of) bullying, and some victims opt to try that process first.

Most of the bullying we have happens because one student just HAS IT IN for another student and has the social capital to engage others in bullying that student. These are actually fairly hard to combat -- often neither of the students has been very nice to each other, because they have a basic personality conflict, and often the parents are pretty wound up about it because someone's being nasty to their kid and their kid is just "fighting back." I sometimes feel pretty helpless about these cases, especially if the parents are egging on their kids or encouraging the behavior. If a student refuses to change behavior and the parent backs up their kid in that, well, they're just going to get suspending repeatedly until they get expelled and then we'll lather rinse and repeat the next year. It's frustrating.

At some of the more rural districts nearby, where the student bodies are very racially and religiously homogenous (and the religious homogeneity is a particularly conservative form of Christianity), they have more "issues-oriented" bullying and more picking on students who are "other."

"Of course children do not have the fundamental freedoms recognised by the USAn constitution."

"First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." Tinker v. Des Moines
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to understand those that feel these guidelines are wrong or are an attempt to protect harassment. The only thing I can come up with is that they were read in the most uncharitable way possible. For example:

If you're forced to be someplace, and that someplace is full of hateful speech directed toward you specifically or toward people like you generally, how can you possibly make a choice to "avert your gaze" or whatever the phrase is in the pamphlet?

Here's what the pamphlet actually says:
Outside the school context, it is settled law that “absent … narrow circumstances … the burden normally falls upon the viewer to ‘avoid further bombardment of [his] sensibilities by averting [his] eyes.’”1 The extent to which this principle applies in the school context is somewhat unsettled.
Perhaps it comes down to the particulars of how they would be followed or implemented. But taken at face value, I don't have problems with the guidelines. (I'm coming from the perspective of an atheist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, strong first amendment supporting person that was considerably teased, harassed, and bullied in school for being overweight, nerdy, and poor.)
posted by Bort at 12:01 PM on May 30, 2012


In other words, the point is, a lot of modern Christians aren't doing it that way anymore. These days many seem to be more interested in worshiping the fire and brimstone God of the Old Testament than in following their own ostensible spiritual leader in Christ.

I think it's more than questionable as to whether the latter was ever the dominant way Christians "did it". The history of Christianity is rife with intolerance and the suppression of other beliefs, starting very early in the history of the Church.

In particular, we know very little about the "pagan" religions which were contemporary with Christianity, because they (and their histories) were deliberately suppressed and assimilated in one of the most sustained acts of bullying in recorded history.
posted by vorfeed at 12:30 PM on May 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's more than questionable as to whether the latter was ever the dominant way Christians "did it".

Fair enough, vorfeed--but this new-covenant-trumps-the-old-testament theology was generally what was taught in the many, variously denominated Sunday schools I went to as a child, as my grandparents restlessly tried out and dispensed with new churches practically every other week in their never-ending attempt to find a congregation not primarily populated by "hypocrites." It seems to me there's been a recent shift even at that level in how Christianity's approached in church (never mind how it's practiced). But then I haven't been to a sit-down church on purpose in years, so my impression may be imperfect.

Thanks Eyebrows for the detailed follow-up! Fascinating info.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:49 PM on May 30, 2012


Of course these sorts of Christians love bullies. They worship one.

No they don't. They may be bullies and acting in reprehensible ways but the 4 gospels are full of tales of Christ going out of his way to include the lowliest members of society. Lepers, minority groups, widows and the like. People who were bullied in that time and place. It is unfortunate that modern evangelical churches have latched on to a couple of old testament verses about being gay (and my understanding is that it is pretty sketchy exactly what the passages are talking about in the original Greek(?)) written by and for a bunch of stone age goat farmers who were constantly at war with all their neighbors.

But don't go spouting off about the teachings of a religion you apparently don't actually know anything about.


I wan't talking about what may or may not be in the Bible, I was talking about the god these people worship, who is a bully. I don't care what your holy book says, what matters to me is how you act and what you do, and these people act with hatred, intolerance, and brute ignorance because, in their own words, their god demands they do so or he will act out in terrible vengeance upon them personally.

And hey, I'm also an Atheist who was raised in religion and who's read the Bible and knows a pretty good amount of what's in it, so don't go spouting off about people you apparently don't actually know anything about.
posted by Legomancer at 6:04 AM on May 31, 2012


Actionally - legomancy has it correct. It doesn't matter what the book says, it matters how people act upon it...

However, the "book" actually has guidance on this specific subject, I refer you to Matthew 7:16 (7:20), which state:

"By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

"Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."
posted by jkaczor at 8:52 AM on May 31, 2012


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