Is requiring students to wear a school’s logo unconstitutional?
April 16, 2014
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
The First Amendment protects individuals’ right to express their opinions. But did you know that other side of the free speech clause is that the government can’t force you to say something you don’t want to? The Supreme Court has ruled in cases of coerced speech that the First Amendment protects individuals from expressing opinions that they find offensive.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided a case in which the issue was whether a public school, acting as the government, can require students to wear a school uniform that bears the school logo and motto, “Tomorrow’s Leaders.”
The parents of two children in Roy Gomm Elementary School in Reno, Nev., said the uniform requirement was coerced speech and violated the students’ First Amendment rights. They said the students were being forced to endorse the belief that leadership was valued and the suggestion that Gomm Elementary produced leaders. The parents said the motto was the school’s opinion and that requiring students to wear the logo that bore the motto was compelled speech.
Students do have abridged free speech rights when in school. Their speech is restricted if it’s disruptive to the school environment, lewd or vulgar, or contradicts the educational mission of the school. But the Gomm Elementary case is about possible compelled speech by the school.
The courts generally have ruled that schools have the right to adopt and enforce school dress policies, even though they acknowledge that clothing is a form of expression. The school defended its uniform policy, saying it was intended to promote “school spirit and unity.”
The appeals court decided that the school requirement violated the students’ First Amendment rights. Its opinion said: “The Roy Gomm Elementary School uniform policy mandates written expression, a message on the shirts above the school logo stating ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders.’… Practically speaking, the Elementary School compels its students to be an instrument for displaying the school motto. Had the uniforms consisted of plain-colored tops and bottoms…, the School would have steered clear of any First Amendment concerns. However, by mandating the written motto on the uniform shirts, the School policy compels speech.”
What do you think?
Is requiring students to wear a school uniform with the motto forced speech? Do you agree with the appeals court’s reasoning? Why is protection against compelled speech important? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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