FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 10/13/2014
Religious Speech Protected by the First Amendment
Representative James White reached out to Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott this week to discuss the growing pattern of anti-First Amendment lawsuit threats to rural schools across Southeast Texas. "This Bull Connor-like anti-First Amendment speech harassment must stop" said Representative White, "students do not check in their constitutional rights when they walk through the school house door."
The First Amendment guarantees that governing bodies - including public schools - may not suppress or exclude the speech of private parties just because the speech is religious or includes a religious perspective. The Supreme Court has squarely stated that a student's free speech rights apply "when [they are] in the cafeteria, or on the playing field, or on the campus during authorized hours…" Tinker 393 U.S. at 512-13.
As the Supreme Court has said, "there is a crucial difference between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect." Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 302 (quoting Mergens, 496 U.S. at 250). Private student speech provides an opportunity for school officials to exemplify constitutional conduct by protecting the ability of students to exercise their First Amendment rights.