Students should never be fearful to speak their mind or share their opinions and thoughts with other students and teachers. Schools exist to foster free thought and encourage students to earnestly explore ideas and concepts without fear of discipline.
And yet, many students in Loudoun County Virginia have reason to fear policing from their own peers on speech that does not fit a radical political ideology. Part of the public school’s new “Action Plan to Combat Racism,” the “Student Equity Ambassador” program encourages students to report other students for speech that does not align with outlined criteria.
Daniel Suhr, lead attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, engaged in oral arguments before a panel of judges in the Fourth Circuit, where he highlighted the discriminatory nature of the program for only allowing “students of color” or those who expressly attest to being “allies” as eligible for participation.
He also pointed out First Amendment issue of free speech, stating that the “Bias Reporting System” that encourages students to police one another’s speech and report them to authority figures, has a “chilling” effect on students who do not follow the required status quo. “Chilling” refers to a phenomenon where individuals refrain from expressing certain ideologies due to fear of backlash or disciplinary action.
“In this instance, there is actually a box you can check on the referral form, that says ‘please investigate this for discipline,’” Daniel pointed out. “And so, if the reporting student chooses to check that box, there is the threat of discipline.”
Judge Niemeyer addressed the defendant’s counsel and summed up the issue precisely: “You’ve put in a procedure that invites any student to make a biased complaint about gender, about religion, about politics, about all kinds of things, race, and if a student is offended and makes a complaint about it, then your program has consequences.”
The issue is two-fold.
Students should not be discriminated against due to the color of their skin or their political and ideological leanings.
Students should not be fearful of speaking their minds or voicing their opinions because they are afraid of other students ratting them out and facing disciplinary action.
The Liberty Justice Center will continue to fight to protect our students’ learning environments and free speech.
To listen to the oral arguments for Patti Menders v. Loudoun County School Board, presented December 8, 2022, click here.