Indiana court rules in favor of student who published page

INDIANA — A court infringed on a student’s free speech when it placed her on probation for creating an expletive-filled MySpace page that criticized a school principal, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The three-judge panel ordered the Putnam Circuit Court to relinquish its penalty against the female student, referred to as A.B. in the court’s decision.

In February 2006, Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn Gobert discovered a Web page attributed to him on MySpace, a popular social networking Web site. The page contained postings from the student on the page that were critical of the school’s policy prohibiting body piercings. Another unnamed student created the MySpace page that A.B. posted her criticisms.

“It is clear that school authorities are state actors for purposes of freedom of expression and, as such, are subject to the commands of the First Amendment,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote in the 10-page opinion. “A.B. openly criticizes Gobert’s imposed school policy on decorative body piercings and forcefully indicates her displeasure with it.”

“While we have little regard for A.B.’s use of vulgar epithets, we conclude that her overall message constitutes political speech.”

The state filed a delinquency petition in March alleging that A.B.’s acts would have been harassment, identity theft and identity deception if committed by an adult, according to the Associated Press. The juvenile court dropped most of the charges, but in June found A.B. to be a delinquent child and placed her on nine months of probation after ruling the comments were obscene.

But A.B. appealed, contending that her comments were political speech protected by federal and state laws because they concerned school policy.

The Court of Appeals found that the comments were protected under the free expression provision of the Indiana Constitution, ruling that the juvenile court unconstitutionally suppressed her right of free expression.

“We find that there is insufficient evidence to support that A.B.’s adjucation of harassment based on her posted message…is consistent with her right to free speech,” according to the decision. “Therefore, we hold that A.B.’s conviction for harassment contravened her right to speak, as guaranteed by the Indiana Constitution.”

By Jared Taylor, SPLC staff writer

A.B. vs. State, No.67A01-0609-JV-372 (Ind. Ct. App. Apr. 9, 2007) (Slip op.)