Where to Draw the Line with Bullying and Freedom of Speech
Drawing the Line between Bullying and Freedom of Speech What is freedom of speech? Our founding fathers established the first amendment which states that Congress cannot create laws that infringe on the freedom of citizens. These freedoms include not only the freedom of speech but other freedoms such as the freedom of press and freedom of religion.Having the freedom of speech means that people can voice their opinions without the government penalizing them for what they say (Ducksters).However, this law does not protect people from punishments they may receive from another party. Consequently, the extent to which a public institution can punish a person for expressing their opinion is an issue and a question arises:is this person using their freedom of speech legitimately or is this person causing a disruption that requires punishment?Where should the U.S government draw this hypothetical line? Often, the cases regarding this line with freedom of speech take place in a high school.
We learn about our right to freedom of speech in school. From our childhood years to our adolescent years, forming our own opinions, voicing them, and supporting them is central toacademic and social growth . Whether it be in an elementary history class, or an AP government course we read, write, and speak about our first amendment rights as citizens of the United States. Therefore, it should be no surprise that high school students across the nation have voiced their concern that their schools are violating the first amendment. Mary Beth Tinker and her siblings are perhaps the most well-known example of this (Dardin). The Tinker siblings chose to express their discontent with America’s involvement in the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school.
This act resulted in the Tinker siblings being suspended from school, which sparked a court case involving student’s political opinions that made its way to the Supreme Court (Dardin).The Tinkers were expressing an opinion about a war (Dardin).But today, many cases deal with a student’s negative bullying actions related to another student or school official. According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort” (American).
When a student speaks out against another student or teacher with words, is this freedom of speech or bullying? No one disputes the fact that students can be cruel online. Chip Douglas, a 10th grade English teacher in North Carolina, resigned after students created a fake Twitter profile the portrayed him as hyper-sexualized drug addict. But some First Amendment advocates believe a subsequent law Enacted by North Carolina legislature in December 2012, the first of its kind, has gone too far. Intended to protect teachers from cyber-bullying, the law prohibits students from making any online comments meant to “intimidate or torment” a school employee (Wheeler).
This quote from an Atlantic article titled, “Do Students Still Have Free Speech in High School,” discusses an example of the crossover from the legitimate use of the freedom of speech to bullying. Our freedom of speech was given to us by our founding fathers so that we could voice our opinion without the government stopping us…not to harass others. That is where a hypothetical “line,” can be drawn. A major difference separates Mary Beth Tinker from a student who, for example, makes fun of their school’s football team on twitter. Voicing an opinion regarding a public political topic in school should not be treated any differently than outside of school. Mary Beth Tinker won her case because the judge decided that she did not shed her free speech rights at the schoolhouse gate.
The Tinker siblings’ reason for protesting with an armband deserved protection under the first amendment. However, a student who intentionally uses words to hurt others does not deserve to be defended under the first amendment. Outside of the school setting, a person who harasses or bullies another person should not be defended under the first amendment. Why would this change in school? Verbal harassment, a frequent form of bullying, is not considered a voicing of a person’s freedom of speech in “the real world.” The decisions made in courtrooms are aimed at keeping consistent laws inside and outside of the school gate.
We learn how to be independent adults in our high-school years. The rulings on our interactions with others should be no different than how they are when we are out of school. If a person uses words to intentionally harm others in a school setting, freedom of speech does not apply. Our freedom of speech was created and given to us with intent for justice in America. There is no need for it to apply to a student who shares their negative view on a group or another person. Bullying is a separate category and should be dealt with by the school to ensure that people are not hurt.
As for students like Mary Beth Tinker, the topics which they speak for or against should be protected by their freedom of speech and their right to their own opinion. Works Cited: American Psychological Association. “Bullying.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 10 Mar. 2011.
Web. 08 May 2016. Dardin, Edwin C. “Free Speech and Public Schools.” Center For Public Education.
Center For Public Education, 05 Apr. 2006. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. “US Government, First Amendment.
” Ducksters. Technological Solutions Inc., 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 Apr.
2016. Wheeler, David R. “Do Students Still Have Free Speech In School.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 07 Apr. 2014.
Web. 14 Apr. 2016.