NORTH SCITUATE – The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter this month to the Foster-Glocester Regional School District saying students, “were silenced for expressing their personal views,” when they were called to a meeting with administrators after bringing what have been described as anti-tolerant flags to school following a Pride Month celebration.
“Students have a First Amendment right to express their views as long as they do not substantially disrupt school activities,” notes the letter, sent to former Supt. Michael Barnes. “If the rights of the students in this case were violated, the school must rescind any punishments and apologize.”
The letter comes in reaction to reports in June that students brought flags to Ponaganset High School that administrators said symbolized anti-tolerance culture following a celebration of Pride Month. The students reportedly posted pictures on social media holding a Confederate flag, and a flag that directed an obscenity at President Joe Biden.
Citing the Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines and Mahoney Area School District v. B.L., the coalition notes that prior law has found that school officials may not forbid students from expressing ideas that they dislike unless they substantially disrupt school activities.
“The court declared that ‘the school itself has an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression,’ particularly because ‘popular ideas have less need for protection,'” states the letter, signed by NCAC Executive Director Christopher Finan. “When school officials censor unpopular expressions, they diminish the complexity of the views that students are exposed to and inhibit their ability to readily engage with their larger communities outside of school.”
The coalition, an alliance of national nonprofit groups dedicated to protecting freedom of expression, says that school officials should never have declared that expression of ideas that clash with school policy is prohibited.
“We urge you to inform students of their First Amendment right to hold and express unpopular opinions on school grounds; to instruct school employees not to obstruct lawful protests; and to take further steps to ensure that the free speech rights of students will be respected in the future,”
The full letter can be found here.