Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sad Day for Free Speech

A New York Appeals Court ruled against Avery Doninger in a free speech case many have been following closely. The Courant reports
The ruling by the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York only addressed a preliminary issue in the case of Avery Doninger, a senior at Lewis S. Mills High School, who has argued that school district administrators violated her First Amendment rights by disciplining her for a blog post she wrote off school grounds.

But the court's ruling weighed in on a hotly contested and evolving area of the law, freedom of expression on the Internet. The three-judge panel stopped short of declaring how far schools can go in regulating offensive Internet speech made off campus, but stated that the school did not violate the Constitution in disciplining Doninger because her blog post "created a foreseeable risk of substantial disruption" at the school.

Thursday's ruling addressed a request by Doninger's attorney for an injunction to allow Doninger to serve as class secretary, which she was barred from doing because of the blog post. A federal district court judge rejected the request last year, finding that Doninger had not proven a substantial likelihood of challenging the constitutionality of her punishment. The appeals court agreed.

Thomas R. Gerarde, an attorney for defendants Paula Schwartz, the former Region 10 superintendent, and Mills Principal Karissa Niehoff, said the rulings by both courts "exonerated" the school district administrators.

"It's a very, very decided victory for Region 10. There's no other way to look at this," he said.

Jon L. Schoenhorn, Doninger's attorney, said the ruling could "emasculate the First Amendment rights of students."

"If this [blog post] was potentially disruptive, then they might as well empty out half of the schools of not just Connecticut but probably in this country," he said.

Schoenhorn noted that the rulings were based on a limited record and predicted that the courts would rule differently once the full case is heard in a trial.

A disappointed Lauren Doninger, Avery's mother, said she and her daughter had always planned to go to trial for reasons beyond the student government and graduation.

"We filed for an injunction because we really hoped to somehow hold on to part of this senior year experience for Avery," she said. "That's not going to happen, but that doesn't change that we need to move forward to trial. We need to really explore student speech rights at the judicial level in the age of the Internet."

The case originated in a dispute last spring about the Burlington school's Jamfest, a battle of the bands that Doninger helped coordinate. Frustrated that it was not going ahead as planned, Doninger wrote on her Weblog that "Jamfest is canceled due to the douchebags in central office." She encouraged others to write or call Schwartz "to piss her off more."

Jamfest wasn't actually canceled, and was later rescheduled. Administrators found the blog entry about two weeks after Doninger wrote it, and Niehoff told Doninger to apologize to Schwartz, show her mother the post and stop seeking re-election as class secretary.

Doninger agreed to the first two, but refused to withdraw her candidacy. Though Doninger was not allowed to run, enough students wrote in her name that she won. She was barred from serving.

The appeals court based much of its analysis on the 2nd Circuit case Wisniewski v. Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District in New York, in which a student was suspended after creating an instant-messaging icon that suggested his teacher should be shot. The court upheld the suspension last year, saying it was reasonable to expect the icon would come to the attention of school authorities and could create a risk of substantial disruption to the school environment.
This serves as yet another example of the degree of degradation of the court system due to forty years of reactionary judges being force fed en mass into the government. America's court have all of the integrity of courts in totalitarian regimes.

When students are denied the right to exercise citizen's rights they will learn to deny those rights of others when they're older. When children are indoctrinated to be silent in the face of what they feel is injustice then our democracy is forsaken.

The embers of the Bill of Rights are not a flicker of hope but of despair that the American people have let the monsters running our government touch our children's lives with the perversions of intolerance and educational internment. The damage these crazy bastards have done to our country is as unforgivable as it is irreparable.

I hear atheists saying, God help us all!

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