Student First Amendment Law: In-class scenarios
By Rebecca A. Glenn
Athens High School
The Plains, Ohio
Title: Student First Amendment Law: What the student can and cannot say
In-Class Scenarios (1, 2, 3 and 5 adapted from the Student Press Law Book)
- A well-known and controversial
big-city lawyer was successful in having sexual assault charges dropped
against two school basketball players. The lawyer
had argued that the victim had consented to the sexual encounter with
the players. The newspaper wants to run an editorial condemning the court’s
decision, saying that the players’ acts should not have been so easily
excused. The editorial details some of the lawyer’s courtroom argument
casting responsibility on the woman, a position that the editors find deplorable.
plan to call the lawyer “a scumbag” in the editorial. If
this editorial is printed, who would win the ensuing court case – the
newspaper or the lawyer?
Answer – probably the paper. Insults and epithets are usually protected statements of opinion, which are not intended to be taken literally and cannot be proven true or false. The ethics of the statement (along with the credibility of the paper printing it) is another matter not for legal discussion. Libel Law.
plan to wear special placards in protest of a recent controversial
outlaws any religious ornament within the school. The school suspends
the students who wear the placards. The students sue in response. Who
Answer – Probably the students, unless the school can prove that a significant disruption of school activities would result from the placards or the individuals wearing the placards. Tinker Standard.
paper for a public high school wants to run a feature story on the average
salaries of public
officials in the area. The reporter asks the treasurer of the school
district for information regarding the salaries of the teachers in the
treasurer refuses, saying that it is not appropriate for high school
students to know the salaries of their teachers. The students sue for
Answer – the students, hands down. Information about the salaries of public employees is open record according to the Freedom of Information Act – even for high school journalists.
- A student newspaper
wants to run an article on drug use in the athletes in the school.
To gather details, the journalist hides a tape recorder in her pocket and
the female locker room to gather information without the athletes knowing
she is there to gather information. She uses quotes and information
the article that she gathered from the locker room. An investigation
follows and the student athletes are suspended for drug use. The athletes
paper. Who wins?
Answer – the athletes. By entering the locker room as a reporter without the athletes’ knowledge, the reporter used inappropriate newsgathering techniques. She invaded the athletes’ privacy.
- A student magazine
regularly published the satirical work of a popular student cartoonist.
In one issue,
the cartoonist took on the topic of youth pregnancy. To do so, he used
characters from a popular national comic strip involving a group of children,
them detail by detail but with one notable difference. In his cartoon,
a girl character was pregnant, one of the boys was the father and their
was the local abortionist. The author of the cartoon strip sued. Who
Answer – the author of the popular national cartoon strip. The details were duplicated and the student cartoonist was benefiting from its publication if only by reputation alone.