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2 hours ago:
Appeals Court Weighs Teen's Web Speech
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 5, 2008; 10:18 AM
NEW YORK -- A teen who used vulgar slang in an Internet blog to complain about school administrators shouldn't have been punished by the school, her lawyer told a federal appeals court.
But a lawyer for the Burlington, Conn., school told the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday that administrators should be allowed to act if such comments are made on the Web.
Avery Doninger, 17, claims officials at Lewis S. Mills High School violated her free speech rights when they barred her from serving on the student council because of what she wrote from her home computer.
What did she write?
"`Jamfest' is canceled due to douchebags in central office," and also referred to an administrator who was "pissed off."
Color me surprised a teen said douchebag about a school administrator and used the phrase "pissed off."
Had she said this aloud, she would not have been punished.
But because she wrote it, the school and a court believe she should be.
That? In my humble opinion? Is excessively unreasonable.
She didn't threaten, nor did she employ libel, slander, hate speech or anything else we disallow from the protection the First Amendment provides.
Oh ho, another, in the last month!
Blog battle becomes free speech case
08:25 AM EST on Sunday, January 13, 2008
By Edward Fitzpatrick, Journal Staff Writer
The Reverend Anne Grant---head of the Parenting Project United Methodist Church in Providence---began a blog protesting what she deemed failures and injustices by the state state Department of Children, Youth and Families, particularly regarding the case of two children, whom she discussed using pseudonyms.
At DCYF’s request, a Family Court judge ordered the state agency to “advise” the Rev. Anne Grant to stop publishing the blog “as it pertains” to the two children.
Rev. Grant is appealing, saying the order violates her first amendment rights of free speech and her fourteenth amendment rights to due process.
I've already mentioned the case of the divorcing couple, one of whom the judge ordered to cease writing about the divorce and the ex-spouse on the blog.
I've mentioned employers who ban employees from blogging.
How about this case? It's fairly exciting.
The Hartford Courant ordered columnist Denis Horgan to stop publishing his blog, claiming he might (not he had, but he might) damage his employer's reputation.
Cyberjournalist.net has an interesting pro/con debate about this order. Click here to read it.
It doesn't take much Googling to see that the reasonable expectation that each blogger---or more specifically each blogger who has participated in this roundtable topic so far---has for freedom of expression isn't really there the way we expect it to be.
As many have noted, free speech isn't really free. It's freedom to speak, but doesn't grant amnesty from consequence.
We're not seeing reasonable expectations; we're seeing censorship. We're not seeing logical consequences to actions; we're seeing violations of our First Amendment protection of freedom of speech.
We're seeing it in the courts, in schools, and in workplaces.
As I wrote to Chani, specifically about workplaces and employers although the idea can be extended to cover courts and schools and society at large as well:
I do think some employers go way over the line. Sometime back, you and I discussed (posted, commented, etc.) the overbred sense of entitlement and ownership some employers have toward their employees' and their employees' time and loyalty.
I think there is a reasonable expectation of nondisclosure.
Then there is over the line, and I hear more and more over the line stories than otherwise.
Employers saying no blogging, period, as a condition of employment, for example. In that case, it wasn't "no blogging on company time or equipment" (reasonable) it was "no blogging period" (unreasonable).
The employer, in essence, was afraid of being Dooced (if you can apply that term back the other way).
Nondisclosure and employee handbook guidelines can manage that.
Violation could result in termination.
Both of those are reasonable.
To just broadbrush forbid it is not, and reflects, I think, that overbred entitlement and narrow-minded punitive style thought. Fear. It shows fear. And distrust.
I find the underlying elements the most concerning of all.
Clamping down on freedom of speech within blogging is the symptom.
We are allowed the right to speak. We are not free, though, from potential consequences such as people disagreeing, feeling upset with us or about what we said, or other opinions. They are free to express themselves, too.
In today's world, we increasingly speak via forms of writing: twittering, emailing, blogging, IMing, and so forth. In general, these communications fall more in line with the spirit of verbal communication than formal written and published communication. We must protect---no, we must respect the existing protections, of the right to speak freely, openly, even opinionatedly, occasionally with invective.
The courts, schools, employers and rest who believe that speaking out negatively or critically should bring solid and legal punishment and restrictions need a remedial course in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Amendments.
Freedom to speak doesn't mean "free to speak only so long as everyone will like what you have to say."
It means free. to. speak.
Do I think people need to self-monitor and employ discretion, and keep in mind that the expanded opportunity to speak and be heard that the online world provides doesn't mean say anything?
We should always consider issues we write about carefully, especially if they involve others. We should keep respect uppermost in our minds. We should use it, not abuse it.
But that's individual.
And it needs to be left up to the individual.
This means some individuals will abuse the medium and the right.
But they have the right to do that.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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