In response, the Governor brownbacked down: "My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most
Both of Emma's tweets are silly. (Among other things, Emma actually hadn't told the Governor he sucked, alas.) But so what? Teen-agers are supposed to be silly. It is adults who should be mature. Surrounded by full-grown ninnyhammers, Emma has had to grow up overnight. Her latest tweet is: "I've decided not to write the letter but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be
She's come a long way from Breaking Dawn.
Brownback, meanwhile, has become a figure of fun; I suspect the Emma Sullivan debacle will appear in his obituaries years hence. But there are Emma
Sullivans all over the country --young people who must make the transition from swooning over vamps to deciding public issues. And far too many of
them are squashed by Brownbackian adults.
With too few exceptions, the officious principals and humorless bureaucrats of the world regard students as blobs with no rights, whose job it is
to shut up and follow orders. Far too many people are willing to go along with this, because much of what teenagers have to say --even when they
are being serious -- is closer to "#heblowsalot" than to "#goingstrong."
But if society doesn't protect their right to silly speech, how many of them will ever have anything serious to say?
The law of student speech was set in 1969 by a case called Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In that case, students were suspended from school for wearing black armbands to
protest the Vietnam War. The Court memorably wrote that neither "students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or
expression at the schoolhouse gate"and that school officials could not punish speech without showing the likelihood of "substantial disruption of
or material interference with school activities."
But in the years since, conservative majorities have tinkered with Tinker. It seems more and more that, while the First Amendment may
protect silent, dignified "speech" like a black armband, all bets are off if the students speak like, well, students. Consider this message: BONG
HiTS 4 JESUS. Consider a student nominating another student for school office with a speech saying, "I know a man who is firm -- he's firm in his
pants, he's firm in his shirt, his character is firm ... a man who takes his point and pounds it in. ... who will go to the very end -- even
the climax, for each and every one of you." Consider, for that matter, student-newspaper stories on teen pregnancy and divorce. In the years since Tinker, the Court has upheld punishment for all of these "offenses" by high school students.
In the most recent case, Joseph Frederick, a latter-day Jeff Spicoli in
Anchorage, Alaska, unveiled a banner with the thought-provoking "BONG HiTs" legend in front of Juneau-Douglas High School in 2002 just as the
Olympic Torch was being carried past the school. School officials confiscated the banner and suspended him. Morse admitted that he just wanted to
get his silly banner on television. But Chief Justice John Roberts, in an opinion for the Court, parsed the statement with all the delicate irony of a
HAL-9000 to conclude that it really meant "[Take] bong hits 4 Jesus," or "bong hits [are a good thing]," thus transforming it into a danger
to every student in Juneau: "schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as
encouraging illegal drug use," he wrote. (Justice Clarence Thomas, concurring, wrote separately to suggest that students have no First
Amendment rights at all.)