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The Infringement of the First Amendment in High School Theatre

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Essay title: The Infringement of the First Amendment in High School Theatre

In the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969), John Tinker and his siblings decided to openly protest the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to school (Goldman 1). The school felt that their efforts to protest the war disrupted the school environment. “The Supreme Court said that �in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.’ School officials cannot silence student speech simply because they dislike it or it is controversial or unpopular” (FAQs 2). What about theatrical performance? Should certain plays not be performed at school because of inflammatory content? Theatrical performance plays a significant role during various years of a child’s youth, but, alone, has one central aim that allows for tolerance and multifariousness within the “salad bowl” United States. High school theatre arts curriculum’s purpose is to develop appreciation of the doctrines, perspectives, principles, and consciousness of diversified individuals in distinctive epochs throughout history as conveyed through literary works and theatre. If theatre has this sort of impact, why does the school administration, teachers, parents, even the state government, infringe upon the student body’s First Amendment rights? Schools should make no policy that would chastise a student for speaking their mind or expressing oneself, unless the process by which they are expressing themselves meddles with the educational methods and the claims of others. If a student threatens another student under “the right” of being able to speak freely, one would hope a school would take immediate action before potential harm occurs. The First Amendment clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” In reference to students and a school environment, the definition of freedom of speech and expression becomes very unclear as to what they can and cannot say.

It is understandable that one’s freedom of speech and expression must be maintained while in school, due to the fact that a variety of individuals with varying beliefs, upbringings, outlooks, etc. attend and expect no conflicting or threatening situations while in a learning environment. Administrators, teachers, and students are human. They do feel, hurt, cry, get angry, laugh, love, and get frustrated. They are subject to saying or doing things that may offend or upset others. Because of this, teachers and administrators cannot say what they want all the time. If a teacher or student is having a bad day and they curse at one another, damning them to hell, this could be, potentially, grounds for improper use of their First Amendment rights in a school environment. There are in fact limits to freedom of speech and expression in school environments to protect the rights of teachers and students. The government and administration implements and enforces these policies when a students or teacher crosses the line and begins to violate the rights of others. “According to the court, school officials must reasonably forecast that student speech will cause a �substantial disruption’ or �material interference’ with school activities or �invade the rights of others’ before they can censor student expression” (FAQs 2 ).

The reason why high school’s limit student’s freedom of speech and expression is to prevent possible conflicting confrontations amongst other students, teachers, outside organizations, outside schools, etc., but, if a high school intends to have an innovative theatre program that allows their students to blossom from beginner theatrical interpreters to a professional, they must be allowed to explore various techniques and seemingly controversial topics. Like most ever changing elements in our society, such as laws, religion, and politics, the theatre world molds its artistic motivation according to issues that are affecting potential audience members today, issues that may cause controversy in the eyes of many but touch the lives of others. Theatre allows for the education of truth. As the British social reformer Charles Bradlaugh once said, “Without free speech no search for truth is possible…no discovery of truth is useful…Better a thousand fold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race” (Seidelin 2).

In Boring v. Buncombe Board of Education (1998), a drama teacher chose the play Independence, written by William Inge, for her students to perform

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