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April 30, 2007

 

-- Opinion --

 

Where is this ‘free speech’ you promised us?

 

By Louisa McIndoe

Many are able to quote the most ubiquitous of the Amendments of the Bill of Rights, namely the First, which guarantees the right to “free speech…[and] press.” These rights are bestowed upon every citizen of America, and as long as they break no laws, they can expect – no, they deserve – to have these rights protected.

Therefore one may have read with indignation the story concerning the Indiana high school newspaper that published an article advocating tolerance toward homosexuals in the 21st century – only to have the wrath of Principal Edwin Yoder descend upon journalism teacher Amy Sorrell.

Originally, Sorrell showed Yoder, for his approval, articles about teenage pregnancy and birth control that were slated to run in the same edition as the tolerance column.

However young the readers of this paper are, I would think that as long as the language was not too explicit, they should have access to this article as well as the article on homosexuality.

I, a teenager in England, could not see why either would be censored. However, it is ultimately up to the principal to decide what should appear in a school magazine.

Having read the article in question, I find myself disagreeing with Yoder. To be sure, author Megan Chase does sound indignant about the way homosexuals are treated in today’s society, and one could quite easily find common ground with her.

With a friend having recently ‘come out’ to her, and facing the prejudice not only rampant inside school but also in the wider world, it is easy to understand where the passion in her article comes from.

She wrote, I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they're just different than you.”

This is hardly groundbreaking or biased. Chase is an average teenager who regards the world around her and finds it lacking in the justice she envisions – before she becomes cynical and stops ‘fighting the system.’

In my school, there was a group who wanted to attend an out of school march against the Iraq war. They were specifically told that they could not go, but they went anyway, and faced the consequences: a week’s suspension.

This is hardly a high price to pay when they believe they made a difference that day and were able to express themselves.

The price that Sorrell had to pay seems a little higher.

The article that Chase wrote is clearly opinion, as much as this one is. Although it may convey some facts, it is written to express my opinion, as Chase’s was to express hers.

She wrote, "I've heard some people say that they think there is a cure to being homosexual. I can't believe anyone would think that. It's not a disease, or something that you catch from someone else; it's something that they don't have control over.”

Clearly, many may disagree with this. Personally, I believe, as Chase does, that homosexuality is not a choice. Having not had a friend close to me experience a great deal of prejudice due to his or her sexual orientation, I cannot write with the conviction and fervor Chase has on the matter.

Ultimately, the debate centers on rights. Does the principal have the right to ‘censor’ articles in a student newspaper? Yes, if he or she believes they are to the detriment of the student body.

It is up to the principal to ensure the day-to-day running of the school is as smooth as possible. However, the article in question – which is freely available on the internet – contains no inflammatory material, no explicit language, and nothing that even the most fervent authority figure could sink his teeth into.

The most one could charge Chase with is writing rather passionately, and being one-sided about her arguments. This is to be expected in an opinion article.

Does the principal have the right to restrict the rights of students? Yes, for the same reasons, but only if there is adequate cause for concern. If there is not, then the principal is being a ‘censor’ and unnecessarily restrictive, which is what happened with Yoder.

Although the United States Supreme Court has backed the decision for principals to remove articles from school journals if necessary, they must surely have grounds to do so. The only grounds Yoder apparently had was not wanting seventh graders to see the word “homosexual.”

If students adhere to school rules, which is the immediate concern for the principal, then surely they should be granted free speech?

Censorship, which is ultimately what this is, should only be used in cases such as offense, racism and incitement of violent attitudes. If the principal has no such reason, he is unnecessarily restricting the rights of students to comment on the world around them as they see it. 

In Indiana, 20 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 14 percent are Baptist, 10 percent are Christian, 9 percent are Methodist, and 6 percent are Lutheran, according to U.S. Census figures.

The issue of homosexuality, especially in a religious environment, will always be a sensitive subject. Trying to control what students write is surely not a way to deal with it.

With an article such as this, if another argument was presented, perhaps by another student, to balance it, would the principal still have had a problem with it?

Or is it that Chase is presenting the politically correct, forward thinking, accepting frame of mind many teenagers of this age embrace, which happens to conflict with the views of older, less educated individuals such as Yoder?

Teenagers find it terribly frustrating to voice their opinions, only to have them put down, or even worse, suppressed, because they’re at odds with an older generation who were taught that homosexuality is an anomaly rather than a natural occurrence.

If Yoder believes this will stop the demand for free speech – when no possible offense has been caused – he is wrong.

Members of the newspaper team have already quit over this censorship, and far from making one accept the ruling handed from above, it has created a vast disturbance.

Congratulations for hushing the distasteful article, Yoder. If you wanted everyone to read it, you certainly succeeded.

Funny how no one has actually said they’re offended by it.

 


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