Off-campus student speech could benefit from federal ruling protecting anti-abortion Web site

The ability of school officials to punish students who publish independent Web sites based on concerns about school violence may be further limited by a March 28 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The unanimous ruling by a three-judge appeals panel, which did not involve students, held that the creators of an anti-abortion Web site could not be forced to shut down their site or pay damages to abortion providers who felt threatened by it. The site included the names and addresses of doctors who preformed abortions, striking through the names of those who had been murdered. In rejecting a jury award of more than $100 million in damages and a court injunction against the site, the appeals court ruled that “political speech may not be punished just because it makes it more likely that someone will be harmed at some unknown time in the future by an unrelated third party.”

“It is not unlawful to say things that frighten other people,” the court said.

The court held that the Web creators could only be held liable if they “‘authorized, ratified, or directly threatened’ violence.