Mom defends daughter's right to blog speech
By Brigitte Ruthman
Sept. 5, 2007
NEW HAVEN -- Poised, intelligent and articulate as she may be, 17-year-old senior Avery Doninger was outside her legal bounds when she used derogatory language to describe administrators at Lewis S. Mills High School, a federal judge has found.
U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz's precedent-setting decision Friday to uphold the school administration's decision to punish Doninger for a blog entry she made outside of school in April chips away at First Amendment rights, her mother Lauren and her attorney Jon L. Schoenhorn said.
Wait... it doesn't stop there.
As punishment, school officials at the 2,843-student kindergarten through 12 school district covering Burlington and Harwinton prohibited Doninger from running for class secretary for a year, a position she had held since her freshman year. Despite the ruling, Doninger would have won her seat back this year because so many students voted for her as a write-in candidate. The school ignored the write-in support, a decision her supporters claim violated their right of free choice. Students were prohibited from wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "Team Avery."
You can read the article in its entirety here.
So, what are the lessons that the school is teaching to its students (and the the court apparently believes should apply to everyone)?
1. You have a first amendment right to free speech as long as you don't offend someone in authority. (Assuming that said authority works for the government.)
2. If you offend someone in authority, that authority has the right to openly discriminate against you and use their power to enforce that discrimination.
3. You may not stand in support of anyone who has offended a shared authority or you will be treated like a co-offender and have your constitutional and positional rights (in this case, the right to participate in school elections and the right to free speech) taken away.
4. The judicial power of school authorities is equivalent to that of local police and magistrates and extends to all spheres of life and not just the area over which they have been hired, appointed or elected to oversee.
5. That we are a government of the government, by the government and for the government.
6. It takes a government to raise a child.
What do the parents of Avery Doninger and the other students at Lewis S. Mills High School have the opportunity to teach their children?
Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
...The authority of government, even such as I am willing to submit to — for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor can do so well — is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious State, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen.- from "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"
by Henry David Thoreau
HT: Judy at Consent of the Governed