Monday, October 14, 2013

MIDDLE SCHOOL SPEECH

Middle School Speech

I remember my middle school graduation as if it was yesterday, the parents in the auditorium cheering for their children. The thing that got students excited was the speech given by the top student in the class. It felt good watching a fellow classmate talk about the school year and what waits for us in high school. Recently at a middle school in Craryville, New York one girl original graduation speech had a piece omitted and sued the school on violating her right to Freedom of Speech and violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The student known as A.M., in court papers, was giving the opportunity to give a speech at her middle school “Moving up Ceremony”. A.M. asked her English teacher to help her in revising her proposed speech. The final sentence on the speech said,” As we say our goodbyes and leave middle school behind, I say to you, may the LORD bless you and keep you; make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” This decision could not been made on the teacher so the teacher told A.M. to consult with the principal. Principal Neil Howard allegedly told A.M. that the last line “sounded too religious” and should be omitted. A.M.’s mother requested that Superintendent Mark Sposato review the matter. Sposato agreed with Howard. The superintendent said the religious message delivered by A.M. could violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Under the establishment clause, government bodies, including public schools, are barred from promoting religion. A.M. delivered her message on her graduation date as planned with the last line of her speech omitted.


Soon after A.M. speech, A.M.’s mother sued the school district contending that they violated her free-speech rights. Specifically, she alleged that they discriminated against her on the basis of her religious viewpoint. A.M. argued that the standard in the U.S. Supreme Court’s student-speech decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District , a court case in 1969 which 16 students planned to wear black armbands to school in an attempt to protest the war on Vietnam, should control the analysis of the case. In the Tinker v. Des Moines case the principal of the school found out about the students plan and mad e a ban on the arm bands and those who wore it would not be permitted into the school. Through their parents, the students sued the school district for violating the students’ right of expression and sought an injunction to prevent the school district from disciplining the students. The district court dismissed the case and held that the school district’s actions were reasonable to uphold school discipline.

The school district argued that this case proper analysis should come from the student-press decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, a court cased in which a school overridden a school newspaper of two articles that the school felt inappropriate. In this case the court ordered that the school officials can censor school-sponsored student expression if they have a legitimate educational reason for doing so. A.M. tried to counter this argument by portraying that the school event was sponsored by the student council. This argument became invalid because the court was told the event was funded by the school. Along with this the school district had a legitimate educational reason for not allowing the sentence to be said at the ceremony. Sharpe noted that the school district had received complaints about a Christmas tree from the parents of a Jewish student and complaints from the parents of a Jehovah’s Witness student regarding the school’s Halloween activities. “Given the past complaints Taconic received from the parents of the Jewish and Jehovah’s Witness students, and their desire to avoid violating the Establishment Clause, its decision to edit the last sentence of A.M.’s speech was reasonable,” he wrote. After this argument the court dismissed the case and confirmed that the School District acted appropriately and in accordance with the requirements of the First Amendment with respect to this matter at all times.
  The factor that helped the school district win this case was exactly what the court said as the school district acted and respected the First Amendment. “The Establishment Clause is the first of several pronouncements in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .” The education system is apart of the government and must withhold to the Constitution for being a public institution of the government. The school provided the evidence that they have not place one religion over another. The school district portrayed they was neutral in the situation. But, does this trump the beliefs of a citizen? The school stopped A.M. from practicing her religion in a speech the school has asked her to write. The school has done what the government has tried to protect in the majority over the minority.


I would have to agree with the court on this decision with omitting the sentence out of the speech. I believe the school has to be neutral in this situation and appeal to entire school. The ceremony was a school based event and should appeal to the whole audience. By allowing the student to express her religion at this event would put the school in a tight spot of them praising one religion over another.. But who am I tell to tell that student that she can’t express her religious belief to her fellow classmates? Even though the government must be neutral but must protect the minority over the majority.     

8 comments:

Liz L. said...

A.M. is acting as an agent of the school district in addressing her classmates. Her classmates are not free to come and go as they please but are obligated to attend the ceremony and witness her remarks. Because the school is not considered a public square, A.M. is not entitled to unlimited freedom of expression and must consider the sensibilities of all in attendance who will be subject to her words.

Sayeh B said...

I agree with both Liz and Terry in this case. Had A.M. been allowed to include that sentence in her speech, it would have violated the Establishment Clause in prioritizing one religion over no religion, and one religion over all other religions. Because this public school is funded by and represents the government, it cannot set one religion above no/all other religions. While this may be a "burden" to the student to not be able to freely express her religious beliefs, I do not believe the burden is significant enough to prioritize her right to freely practice her religion over the state's interest to maintain religious neutrality.

Mike Spear said...

Terry, this was tough call for me but I have to agree with your stance. The student was an extension of the school, therefore it should be the school's responsibility to ensure that religion does not take preference over non religion. If A.M. was giving a speech off school grounds, or had she sent an email, text, etc, her statements would have been protected by our right to free speech. School's must continue to be sensitive to the issue of religion in schools to ensure they remain secular in their approach to public education.

Yessica M said...

I agree with the comments made in that it was a good thing that A.M. omitted that final sentence in order to maintain neutrality. If A.M. were to keep that part of her speech it would definitely be a violation of the establishment clause. However, if I remember correctly, almost all my school ceremonies and assemblies began with the pledge allegiance to the flag, isn't that itself a violation of the establishment clause? We have discussed this in class and I do understand that today we are not obligated to say the pledge but if schools want to maintain neutrality, wouldn't be easier to just take the pledge out of all school ceremonies? Again, I want to emphasize that I do agree with the decision but I think we should start looking into other things that are still occurring in our schools that have not been changed.

Tyler J said...

I agree with the court and the school district in this case, as well as the other comments. A.M. can believe what ever she chooses, but as Liz pointed out, the students cannot leave. This is not like the Pledge of Allegiance where one can opt out - the other kids must sit and listen to her speech. Therefore she should not be allowed, as an extension of the school, to preach her religious beliefs.

Adam J said...

I’ll have some fun and say that had A.M. kept the line in her speech it would not have been a breach of the Establishment Clause because they are merely A.M.’s views that are being expressed. I believe the school took the necessary steps to protect it from a lawsuit but the speech is just the views of one person being expressed. I just can’t see how a middle school student’s speech can be a breach of the Establishment Clause.

SC said...

I have to say that I disagree with the court’s ruling on this case. I think this case is different from Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier in the sense that the school newspaper can be considered to represent the viewpoints of the school, which should be neutral as to not violate the establishment clause, while a graduation speech represents the viewpoint of an individual. While the establishment clause does not allow public schools to “promote” religion, A.M. is not employed by the school, and is therefore not bound by that rule. Therefore, I think allowing A.M. to recite her speech would not be a violation of the establishment clause, and that not allowing her to recite it is a violation of her right to free speech and indeed does discriminate against her due to her religion.

Blair said...

I agree with the decision of the court. The student still spoke at graduation and portrayed the main message of her speech to her fellow students and audience. I also agree with Terry, she was representing her school and this honor does not permit her to represent in the way that she chooses if it violates the Establishment Clause. I know that my school did the pledge of allegiance but there was never an instance where anyone who spoke publicly to the students mentioned God or any specific religion. Overall, the school district was definitley remaining neutral for religions and non religions and the last sentence of her speech did not prove to be essential to how her message got across to the audience.