Civics Lessons: Schools Frown on Political Speech

By Sanchez, Julian | Reason, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Civics Lessons: Schools Frown on Political Speech


Sanchez, Julian, Reason


Brad Mathewson was more than a little surprised when school officials at Webb City High School in Missouri called him into the principal's office for wearing an "offensive" T-shirt. After all, the shirt merely bore the name of a club from his previous high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas: "FHS Gay Straight Alliance."

When he came to school wearing another shirt with a gay pride message, he was sent home. On his return, he noticed that administrators didn't seem to have a similar problem with bumper stickers supporting the state's anti-gay marriage amendment or T-shirts declaring, "God Made Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve."

Mathewson's experience, which has fueled a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is extreme but not uncommon. In a highly polarized time, pedagogues seem increasingly wary of the "disruptive" effect of student political speech.

David French, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, cites a "dramatic spike in complaints" from high school and college students in the months preceding November's elections, including reports of faculty tearing down students' political flyers and schools banning guest speakers deemed "too partisan" Students were forbidden to wear pro-Kerry pins or shirts to a Bush campaign appearance in the gymnasium of Richland Center High School in Wisconsin. …

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