The following article by LJC attorney Daniel Suhr appeared on Real Clear Education on July 2, 2021
Free speech rights for students have always been a difficult issue because schools have unique needs and concerns.
But whether it was black armbands to protest the Vietnam War or a picture of Jesus in an art class, courts have consistently recognized that the First Amendment does not stop at the schoolhouse door.
Unless, that is, you live in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Located in the leafy suburbs of Washington, D.C., Loudon is now ground zero in the fight against policing speech in public schools.
For the past two years, the district has pursued a controversial new curricular approach focused on equity and race consciousness. But parents are now suing to stop a new program they believe crosses constitutional lines.
The so-called “Equity Ambassadors Program” allows students as young as sixth grade to report on their fellow students if they perceive a student’s speech to be offensive or racist.
Initially open only to students who could check the right racial boxes, the program’s purported goal is to “amplify the student voice.” But one school leader was honest enough to admit its real purpose: to “identify microaggressions” among students – even those arising outside of school or on social media.
This may sound well-intended, but the program will have the exact opposite effect.
Rather than amplifying student voices, equity ambassadors will suppress them. Students will live in fear of their classmates, paranoid of offending their peers. If their comments are reported, students could face a ruined reputation or destroy their chances of attending college.
In short, this program will teach our children nothing but to fear others. It is not education; it is a tool of indoctrination.
This month, the Liberty Justice Center launched a new federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of parents and students in Loudoun to stop this censorship.
Unfortunately, what is happening in suburban Washington is emblematic of a trend growing across the country. So-called “bias incidents” on college campuses spark investigations into students for messages supporting a particular political candidate or expressing their Christian faith. Meanwhile, high school teachers are forcing their students to discuss sensitive personal topics, such as race, religion, and family income, in order to establish their “privilege score.”
But last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that one Pennsylvania school overstepped its authority by disciplining a student for complaining about her cheerleading coach on Snapchat. The court’s decision was encouraging news, but it should not take federal judges and lawsuits to inject some common sense into our schools.
Every parent should shudder at the prospect of their child living in constant dread that any remark can be anonymously reported and officially investigated. Yet this is where education is headed – unless parents fight back in courtrooms and classrooms to save our kids from this divisive new orthodoxy.
As Loudon parent Scott Mineo told me, “Our kids have the right to develop their own opinions, free from indoctrination and school-sanctioned bullying … This is not education; it is coercion.”
Read the article on Real Clear Education