Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Snake Oil Sam Plays Supreme Court Justice

Sometimes subjects come into the courts and into the news which capture my interest. And sometimes those subjects simply beg for my comment. As The Supreme Court of the United States of America is currently in the process of hearing such a case and since I am pro free speech I would have to say that this is a subject which fits that category of commentary value.

Just how far do our rights to offer a statement of belief extend and does anything outweigh or limit our individual rights? At the beginning of this article let me say that I believe that there are circumstances in which we are limited in speech. And this particular case is a perfect example of that limitation.

In this particular case a high school student in the State of Alaska held up a sign during a school sanctioned event, the viewing of the Olympic torch passing the school, containing the words “Bong Hits for Jesus” which is a rather vague and innocuous statement at best.

The schools administration deemed it as a reference to support for illicit drug use. The message is not of importance in this case so let’s not be distracted by what the message was. It could have just as easily expressed a message such as “I Love Mommy.”

An important point is that the school did not request or instruct any students to make such a sign. It was done without the knowledge or sanction of the school or its administration. Had the school requested that the students of this school make signs for the event then what was written would have been an issue of free speech since the school has no right to direct the conscience of the student. But it did not so therefore it is not an issue.

At best under such a set of circumstances the school would have been within its right to give the student a failing grade for being off point as it was an event about the Olympic games. But since no such signs were requested or sanctioned by the school then it is clear that no such free speech issue is raised.

As a matter of record this student did not report to school on the day of the event and was not on school property but rather on park property adjacent to the school at the time of the event.

Yet anyone who knew him, not being aware of his absence from class that day, would recognize him as a student of the school and associate his actions at that time with the school and he therefore became in part an ambassador of the school as are all students during such events.

Since he was among a crowd of students who were in attendance at class that day this student cannot hide from ambassadorship responsibility that day regardless of his truancy status. The law required that he be present at school that day and he was in fact in attendance albeit sans official documentation.

Do We Lose Our Right to Free Speech at Any Time?

With those issues at rest it is important to consider how students in school have limited right to free speech. When a student is a part of a school sanctioned event as has been determined here that student becomes obligated to act in conformity with set rules.

As long as those rules are a written code on file and available to all students and the public at large, for examination, and are written in accord to legal standards of conduct set forth by the community at large then they are binding upon all of the student body.

The school did not take anything away from the student since the student has the same rights of all American citizens when not under the control of the school during a set timeframe as dictated by the legal authorized school authority.

In addition the student always has the availability of the justice system which is established to protect those rights. So nothing was improperly denied this student or any other student.

In addition, the action of the school represented no physical harm to the student. If there was no set standard the end result of unabridged rights would be a potential argument that any student could simply refuse to go to school at any time. And it would be a reasonable argument.

There has to be a balance to free speech or else that right would result in absolute chaos. Just because a person has a right to freely express him or herself it is not an arbitrary license to say anything at anytime to anyone. This is an issue which applies not only to students in the setting of a classroom or school sanctioned activity.

It applies to the workplace as well. An individual in the conduct of company business is obligated to act as an ambassador of that business. If the employee is in disagreement with a limitation of speech then that individual has the right to leave the position.

And if an individual does things which cause a blemish on the reputation of the company during hours of employment then that company has the legal right to severe the individuals employment in accord with the terms of the rules of employment set forth in rules of conduct.

That is not to say that the employer has the right to tell the employee what he must say or believe but as it relates to employment the company has a right to regulate conduct on the job.

The same set of rules can be related to the conduct of a student while under the authority of the administration and authority of the school. If the student has a problem with the school policy then the student has the right to seek alternative education through private school or a home study curriculum.

It is therefore concluded that in the case being considered by The Supreme Court of the United States of America that the school district was within its legal right in the actions which it took on the day in question.

This court rules in favor of the school district. God save the court.

Snake Oil Sam
Snake Oil Sam Internet Media Publishing © 2007
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