Fla. passes law preventing restriction of students' First Amendment rights

FLORIDA — Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill into law June 4that is meant to prevent school districts from restricting the First Amendmentrights of school employees or students without their consent.

The measure, House Bill 31,goes into effect July 1. It prevents districts from entering into any agreement”that infringes or waives the rights or freedoms afforded to instructionalpersonnel, school staff, or students by the First Amendment to the United StatesConstitution,” unless those affected sign a waiver.

The Associated Press reported that the bill, whichwas “watered down” in its final form, was introduced byrepresentatives Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, in reactionto a lawsuit settlement between the American Civil Liberties Union and the SantaRosa County School Board. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to stoppublic prayers at school-sponsored events.

“Our First Amendment rights, granted to us by the U.S. Constitutionare absolute, and this law ensures that they remain that way,” Evers toldthe Holmes County Times Advertiser.FrankLoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said it is unclearif or how the new law would affect student journalists in Florida.

“There’s at least an argument to be made that legislatorsdon’t pass laws to do nothing and that the intention here is to bringstudents’ First Amendment rights more in line with the rights any othercitizen would have,” LoMonte said.

He said Florida courts would have to decide whether the law simplyrecognizes the student press rights that federal law already provides or if itconfers the full benefit of the First Amendment to students.

Evers and Drakes did not return multiple phone calls by presstime.