Free Speech Speaks Up
March 30, 2012
Recently, lawmakers have received criticism for passing a bill through the Florida House that would allow for “inspirational messages” to be spoken at public school events. But regardless of such criticism, one fact remains true: the ability to make such statements is a student’s right.
While many criticize the bill, saying that it is a way to arbitrarily indoctrinate children with specified religious beliefs, it does nothing of the sort. The bill specifically promotes freedom to say “inspirational messages”. As was stated by Senator Gary Siplin, who supports the bill, these messages can range from anything from “the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech [to the]the Pledge of Allegiance”.
It is no secret that optimism and hope have not exactly been the focus of media and world news reports in recent decades. For the youth that have grown up almost entirely surrounded by this atmosphere of gloomy despondency, promoting hope can hardly be harmful.
Even if students use the bill to spread messages that are religious in nature—as some critics claim the bill will do—ample checks remain to ensure that other students do not feel alienated or offended. For example, teachers and other school employees would not be allowed to take part in the message. This means that any statements would come clearly from student opinion and not from the school itself. Under Florida law, students already have the right to share their opinions openly in every other situation aside from school assemblies. Therefore, it is not as if this bill would be introducing a new concept; it would only be spreading the scope of the current use of free speech in schools. According to National School Board Association’s Office of General Counsel, “Supporters [of the bill] stressed that participation by students would be optional. Some said the measure would teach tolerance and restore order to classrooms.”
It is yet more important to note that offensive messages—such as those that use profanity and hate speech—would still be banned, as they conflict with other Florida laws and in no way can be categorized as “inspirational.” This clause would make it very difficult for the bill to be abused, as any rude or offensive statements would still be banned.
The bill passed in the Florida House by an overwhelming margin—88-27—attesting to its practicality and constitutionality.
With so many checks still in place to ensure that tactfulness and respect for other student’s beliefs are considered in messages at school gatherings, it is difficult to believe that this bill will destroy school assemblies as we know them.
In the words of Representative Fred Costello, “ Students are inundated with […] all of the moral decay that’s on our televisions. It is time that we allowed … students to bring inspirational messages to share with each other.”