Free Speech Rights and Wrongs in Walla Walla: School Officials Crack Down on Inappropriate Bumper Stickers on Cars of Students

wahi_logoSchool officials continue to expand their oversight over non-school activities and speech of their students. Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Richard Carter and Walla Walla High School Principal Darcy Weisner have cracked down on a naughty bumper stickers by students. They suspended a student for an objectionable stick on her car. It appears, according to Walla Walla’s Weisner, that the “Blue Devils” have to be a bit more angelic in their exercise of free speech.

The high school student had two bumper stickers on her car with profane words on them. One had a phrase similar to 1990s rap song, “Boom! I Got Your Boyfriend” by M.C. Luscious. The sticker replaced “got” with a more descriptive and perhaps more accurate term. While the Supreme Court ruled in Bethel School District v. Fraser that a school could suspend a student for delivering a speech filled with sexual innuendo during a school assembly, this was on a private car of a student.

The school district is adamant that it may crackdown on the student because the car was parked in a school parking lot. Deputy Superintendent Bill Jordan insists “The bumper stickers contained the ‘f’ word and this language is not acceptable in print or speech on school grounds. The decision to have the bumper stickers removed from campus was made to maintain a safe and civil school environment.” Whatever benefit censorship might have for school safety and civility, it clearly does little for the students’ understanding of free speech and associational rights.

National Coalition Against Censorship has taken up the case.

The expansion of school monitoring of such speech is an overlooked threat to first amendment rights. The Supreme Court sped along this dangerous trend in its wrongly decided opinion in Morse v. Frederick (the so-called Bong Hits for Jesus case), discussed here.

For a discussion of other such speech cases, click here.

For the full story, click here.

22 thoughts on “Free Speech Rights and Wrongs in Walla Walla: School Officials Crack Down on Inappropriate Bumper Stickers on Cars of Students”

  1. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill- I’m a fairly liberal democrat, and I don’t think anyone should be suspended over this, but the issue here to me is that profanity in public, such as on a bumper sticker, is just plain wrong. Maybe they could have just ASKED her to remove it? Or cover up the “UCK” on the sticker? Or point out to this girl she may as well have a sticker that says, “Hi, I’m a dumb slut”? We need more common sense and less over-reaction to the latest teenage fad. Also, where in the world are this girl’s parents? If I had a teenage daughter, and she had that sticker on a car that was bought for her, it never would have made it to that shool parking lot to begin with.

  2. The school’s parking lot is not private property it’s public. So this principle is wrong >.<

  3. The school’s parking lot in not private property it’s public. So this principle is wrong >.<

  4. Today’s note of ambivalence:

    I agree the school officials are fools BUT they’re “Point People” in a more wide-ranging linqual (sp?) debate.
    If speech os really free why can’t I use horrible, stereotypical slang and sloganeering at, say,in a speech at community social gathering. Imagine this greeting — “Hey you n— c—, How’s your sorry b— a— this morning?”
    Lovely, right? Nonetheless, shouldn’t I be free to state sentiments like this in a speech given to the public or a segmant thereof without worrying about official public reprisal?

  5. A bumper sticker with a swear word on it is offensive? What about political statements? What about organizations that disagree with other people’s beliefs?

    What if a student that hunts is offended by a PETA bumper sticker?

    What if a pro-choice student is offended by a pro-life bumper sticker?

    What if a lumberjack’s kid is offended by a “Save the Trees” bumper sticker?

    Good grief, maybe bumper stickers should just not be allowed at schools because eventually, everyone will be offended by something.

    It’s a swear word for pete’s sake! I’m sure that word is said more times in the hallways and cafeteria’s than it’s seen on the girls bumper!

  6. Many teens challenge limits by trying to shock. I recall when my teenage son spent $25 on a Marilyn Manson shirt that was beyond the pale. I didn’t just throw it away. I chopped it up with a scissor first. What surprised me was that my son started improving his attitude. I should have protested his choices sooner. If it were political speech, that would be very different. But kids, even those old enough to drive, need to understand that crude, rude conduct is disruptive in an educational setting. It carries over to sexual and other sorts of abuses on school grounds that can cause significant harm.

  7. Drug testing. Speech controls. Searches without cause. Armed police at the doors.

    What kind of government will these students be trained to tolerate?

  8. Why are these self righteous prudes afraid to quote the bumper sticker verbatim?
    What kind of chickenshit journalism is this anyway?

  9. Yankee,

    I like your style! The school admin will probably have police remove the stickers because they are “jarring”.

  10. Yankee:

    Great idea. Maybe attach a billboard to the bed of your pickup if you’re lucky enough to own one. Sadly that takes more courage than most people can muster much less permit their kids to do. I’m with Lenny Bruce, when he said: “Take away the right to say fuck and you take away the right to say fuck the government.”

  11. “Don’t the Walla Walla educators have more pressing things to do than read bumper stickers on kids’ cars?”

    The only useful knowlege gained from public education is how to deal with idiots.

    I’d have an easy cure for that, park across the street off school property, after affixing a bumpersticker expressing your opinion of the school.

  12. kate said:

    “..they can and simply key “porn videos” into google they will be exposed to the most graffic immages on the internet.”


    How does someone so “pure of mind” know about keying in such information? And, why did you “stuudder” with these two words: “graffic immages” (sic)? Were you distracted by some *graphic* image you found on Google or did you mean *traffic images*? Google “is” a good way to keep up on traffic reports…isn’t it?

    Seriously, as parents, the best that we can do is to teach our kids to be respectful, honest, ethical, and kind to others. Sure, I would prefer that young kids, boys or girls, did not see all of the “graffic” stuff on the Internet, but they do and they *will* access it. Just take the time to give your kids the knowledge to make the right choices, show that you love and care for them, and then do not beat *yourself* up for failing when they make a wrong choice here and there.

  13. It’s cases like this where we need to remember the wise words of Justice Stewart Potter in Jacobellis v. Ohio:

    I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. BUT WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!?

    If the principal doesn’t stop this student from exercising her First Amendment rights, then other students might get similar ideas, and we all know where that road leads. Yes, somewhere down the line, someone’s going to get tazed.

    btw, the NCAC needs to bring the lawyer who wrote this on board as a consultant.

  14. How did we get so anxious to limit free speech? I agree with Mespo and Mike and Prof. Turley that this is one more example of the way we lose our constitutional rights. The neocons and the neocon wannabes are real big on making fun of Barney Frank and his speech impediment. I see that similar attack on other sites as well. That is the kind of attack you get when the facts of an issue are not in their favor, which happens often.

  15. barney:

    Your incredible psychic abilities about the knowledge of these kids is surpassed only by the sensitivity you show to persons suffering speech impediments by your hilarious use of the moniker you chose. Tell me how many times did you overcome a personal flaw to be elected to any office of significance by your peers. Or perhaps we should just call you Demosthenes?


    Keep thinking projection bias, projection bias. It might save you from the more demanding shock therapy that seems in the offing for you.

  16. i agree with mike, kate dosen’t understand that porn is a way of life for kids globally and cannot be stopped with parents blocking sites.

  17. Kate warns that our children will be exposed to pornography on the Web. People of her ilk who are afraid of freedom always use children as the excuse for their meddling. It is the tightly “buttoned up”
    people who have the weirdest sexual hangups. They just want society to save them from their own perversity.

    Barny talks ironically of kids ignorance, while displaying his own dumbness and bigotry.

    Mespo, too true. Don’t the Walla Walla educators have more pressing things to do than read bumper stickers on kids’ cars? A current right wing rage today is to confuse promoting discipline with sexual prudery. Meanwhile real obscenities like war, killing and torture are proudly ignored by this obsession with sexuality.

  18. Yes, and all these kids sporting this crap on their cars, if asked, would have no clue who Obama’s VP is, who nancy Pelosi is, or even which party controls Congress.

    We should be so proud of the ignorance of our kids….

    barney fwank

  19. As well the school should!

    Hey Turly, You are a free anything goes kind of guy. When your own kids sit down at an unprotected PC anywhere they can and simply key “porn videos” into google they will be exposed to the most graffic immages on the internet.

    I would guess you are ok with that because it was your fault as a parent for letting them have access to this “unprotected PC”!


  20. In Walla Walla, “Tinker” is just an itinerant tradesman, and rights do get checked at the school house door–maybe even the entrance to the parking lot, and probably once again right beside the metal detector and near the police “resource officer’s” station. Any wonder why kids have no appreciation for the freedom they still enjoy outside of class?

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