There is an interesting free speech controversy in Florida where Vero Beach High School junior J.P. Krause won the election for class president only to be told that he would be retroactively disqualified. The reason was his tongue-in-cheek campaign speech using Trump slogans. Vero High Principal Shawn O’Keefe accused Krause of harassing an opponent with his speech invoking President Trump’s proposed border wall. The Superintendent had to reverse O’Keefe’s decision after a public outcry.
Here is the speech:
Klause accused the other candidate of representing a rival school and proposed that “we build a wall” between the two schools and have the other school pay for it. He also accused the rival of representing “Communist ideas.”
O’Keefe saw no humor in the Trump references: “The insulting language in this speech was of a nature that created a situation of public humiliation and therefore violated school district rules pertaining to harassment.”
I do not see how this speech is seriously a matter of harassment. Apparently neither did the Supervisor who announced:
“After careful review of all the circumstances surrounding the Vero Beach High School Student Government Association Senior Class President election, I have decided to overturn the principal’s decisions regarding disqualifying candidates from the election, and will accept the original election results.”
We have been discussing the alarming rise of speech limitations and sanctions imposed by school officials. We have seen a steady erosion of the free speech rights of students in the last decade. The Supreme Court accelerated that trend in its Morse decision. Former JDHS Principal Deb Morse suspended a student in 2002 during the Olympic Torch Relay for holding up a 14-foot banner across from the high school that read “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.” The case ultimately led to the Supreme Court which ruled in Morse v. Frederick ruling in 2007 for the Board — a decision that I strongly disagreed with and one that has encouraged over-reaching by school officials into protected areas. Even cheerleaders are expected to conform their free speech to accept positions or risk removal from their teams. Even liking images on social media to get students suspended.
Even assuming that the student seriously supported Trump in these statements, it should not be a matter of disqualification to quote the President. Likewise, the interpretation of such references as harassment or humiliation is a bit forced.
What do you think?