Old free speech cases, new generation of voices
Freedom of speech has long been one of the strongest pillars on which the country was founded, but some of the more historic cases in the United States' history are resurfacing, but not necessarily for the right reasons.
It seems as if since it was initially penned, the First Amendment has been the subject of much debate and discussion in the American political spectrum. While on the surface it seems as if everyone is in support of idea behind free expression, not everyone is in favor of its practice when it comes to certain topics. These kinds of issues have popped up in many places throughout history.
One of the most controversial times for freedom of speech in the U.S. was during the Vietnam War. With many of the country's youth being shipped over sees to fight for a war that they did not believe in, the desire to mobilize and express dissent was strong. During the time, there were a number of symbols of protest. While some people chose to speak out directly against the war, other chose to do so symbolically, like through the burning of a draft card, a flag, or wearing a black armband.
Controversy in Kentucky
A recent story from Kentucky is bringing these kinds of controversies back into the forefront of the U.S. debate surrounding free speech. In 1989, an artist named Dread Scott (not to be confused with the African American slave) displayed the U.S. flag on the ground in an exhibit entitled, "What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?" The idea of the piece was that people could either choose to stand on the flag or not, based on how they felt about its meaning. The piece's reception received a wide range of different opinions, as some, including the artist himself, burning a flag on the steps of the U.S capital, while inside, legislators discussed creating legislation that would ban such an act.
While no legislation was passed, the issues brought about by the piece are still reverberating today. An art teacher from a Kentucky high school assigned a project to students in which they were encouraged to recreate a piece, as part of a college credit art history course, according to the Guardian. One student chose to do the Dread Scott piece.
The news source explains that for about 30 minutes the piece was on display in which students engaged in meaningful discussion about the questions raised, before the assistant principal and another student arrived and shut down the display. The teacher was banned from issuing the assignment again, and any further, potentially controversial assignments from teachers must be first approved by the administration.
Students and free speech
This recent act only further prompts the kind of discussion that has been ongoing in schools for quite some time, which is the right of students to freely express themselves. On the one hand, some feel that the voices of students should be acknowledged and heard, while others feel that their speech can be disruptive to the learning process.
One of the most landmark examples of this debate appeared during the Vietnam War when one student and a couple others like her decided to wear black armbands to school in a sign of protest for the conflict. This student was Mary Beth Tinker, and after she was suspended from school in 1965, she took her case to the Supreme Court, where she ultimately won her case in the famous Tinker V. Des Moines School District.
Now, almost half a century later, Tinker is going on tour through many of the country's schools to encourage students to raise their voice, according to the Associated Press. When she won the case in 1969, it marked an encouraging victory for student rights inside the classroom, but if the Kentucky incident is indicative of anything, it means that there is still a ways to go when it comes to the free speech rights of students.