COLORADO — Whether high schools have the right tosuppress speech, simply based on the viewpoint students express, will not bedecided by the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the high court declined to hear acase brought by parents of slain Columbine High School students, who sued theschool district for taking down their memorial artwork because it containedreligious references. Last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the10th Circuit upheld the school’s decision. By doing so, the appellate courtjoined a short list of courts nationwide to rule that schools can restrictschool-sponsored speech even if their reasons for doing so is they disagree withthe views being expressed. Other courts have prohibited viewpointdiscrimination, including the district court judge in the Columbine case,Fleming v. Jefferson County School District.Following the April20, 1999, shootings at Columbine that left 15 people dead, school officialsproposed a decorative memorial made up of individual tiles. Students, parentsand community members were given the opportunity to create four-by-four-inchtiles, but they were instructed to keep their designs free of references to theshootings, names of victims or any religious designs or symbols. About80 tiles were removed for those violations, including one submitted by Donaldand Diedra Fleming, parents of one of the victims. Their tile included the dateof the attack and the words, “Jesus Wept.”The Flemings and otherfamilies challenged the school district’s actions as a violation of theirfreedom of speech and religion. The families were aided by The RutherfordInstitute, a civil liberties organization. The school district argued the tileswere school-sponsored speech, which could be regulated by the Supreme Court’sdecision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. A federal judge sided with theparents, but the appellate court overturned the decision.By declining tohear the appeal, the Supreme Court has left unanswered the question of whetherschool administrators are allowed to practice viewpoint discrimination to quellschool-sponsored speech that falls under Hazelwood. The question is animportant one for school-sponsored student media that are experiencingcensorship for views expressed on their opinion and editorial pages. In otherrulings involving expression presented in non-public forums, the Court hastraditionally not allowed viewpoint discrimination, but the Hazelwooddecision never addressed the issue directly.
Read previous coverage
- Appeals court rejects Columbine wall tiles The Report, Fall 2002
- Federal appeals court allows Columbine to censor religious tiles News Flash, 7/8/2002
- Columbine wins reprieve in religious tiles dispute The Report, Winter 2001-02
- Appeals court grants reprieve in Columbine religious-tiles case News Flash, 11/9/2001
- Judge rules Columbine High School cannot censor memorial tiles News Flash, 10/18/2001