Remember Neshaminy High School, the school that issued vague threats purporting to require that a student newspaper print the name of the school's football team, the Redskins, after the editors voted and decided it was a racial slur?
The threats are no longer vague. Instead, they're long-winded and mostly laughable gibberish contained in a nine-page proposed board policy change that amounts to transparently retaliatory censorship. (If your dog ate it for dinner, you'd find nine identical pages on your lawn the next morning.)
You can read it in its entirety here. I've taken the liberty of excerpting a particularly chuckle-inducing part:
(Oh, hey everyone! Good news! The white devils on the school board decided the word Redskins isn't a racial slur!) (Note: in this article, the phrase "white devils" shall not be construed as a racial or ethnic slur. There, I fixed it. We cool?)
The parts that aren't unconstitutional outright or barred by Federal law rest on a logical fallacy that even a first-year law student would realize has no basis in reality.
The crux of the district's argument? That the editors of a student newspaper "censor" their peers by editing them.
If someone of average intelligence thought about this position for 30 uninterrupted seconds, he or she would quickly realize this can't be correct.
By that standard, a student has the right to run on stage during the school play and talk about the mascot. By that standard, a student has the right to launch into the school song during a choir concert. By that standard, a student has the right to go to the art room and paint the word "REDSKINS" over a mural.
These are all educational expressive activities where a group of students assume editorial control of some amount of government property to reach an educational end. In any of these contexts, the students who normally oversee those activities have the right to prevent other students from interrupting, altering, or destroying the message they wish to convey.
You don't need to understand constitutional law particularly well to know that -- you just need to possess a tiny bit of common sense and self-awareness. But if you happen to know constitutional law, you also know that it's the legally correct outcome.
Once government property is set aside for an educational purpose, students have a protectable free expression right within the scope of that purpose. Students no more have a right to take control of the newspaper away from the editors than they do the right to take control of the footballs away from the football team.
I mean, after all, every student and his or her family contributed equally to the cost of that football. If you stop a student from running on the field and taking the football, you're interfering with his right to pursue athletics.
Is that a stupid argument? Well, that's exactly what Neshaminy's school district is arguing about the newspaper -- that somehow, permitting editors to edit the newspaper interferes with the right of free expression of the students who aren't editors.
But there is no "right" to print in a newspaper when you aren't an editor, just like there isn't a "right" to play football when you aren't on the team. There's no "right" to stand up and talk over a play, or sing over the chorus, or paint over a mural, either.
And of course, the Neshaminy School Board knows that. Or they should, because they have written a "free expression" policy that protects exactly one type of expression: agreement with the use of a racial slur. Editors are free to edit anything except that.
So the only "free expression" Neshaminy's School Board is interested in protecting is the expression that agrees with them. Hmm, funny. Kim Jong-un has the same free expression policy.
It reminds me of an old joke from the cold war about a Russian diplomat talking with his U.S. counterpart. The American says, "My country is so free, I can walk right up to the White House and call Nixon a fascist."
The Russian says, "This is nothing, comrade. I can go right inside the Kremlin and call Nixon a fascist!"
If you don't understand the joke, you're probably on the Neshaminy school board.