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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Editorial: Freedom of speech preempts ‘cyberbullying’ rules

    The First Amendment doesn’t have any fine print. There aren’t any puling little equivocations, any “”buts”” or “”excepts.”” The amendment protects freedom of speech, period.

    This is why the First Amendment presents an ever-present threat to those who would seek to stifle us in the name of hurt feelings. And that is why we must be ever on alert to spot attempts to keep us from expressing “”hurtful”” thoughts. They don’t trumpet their intention of censorship; they mask their intentions in the guise of promoting “”safety”” and preventing “”harassment,”” even if those elements are in no way relevant.

    The New York Times reported Saturday that Katherine Evans, a former high school senior and honor student at a Miami high school, was suing her former principal for ordering her suspension. Evans had been suspended for posting an angry rant against an English teacher of hers on Facebook. “”Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever met!”” she wrote.

    After a few days, Evans took the post down. Two months later, she was suspended for “”cyberbullying harassment.”” She’s suing in order to remove the suspension from her record because she feels, quite rightly, that she was unfairly charged.

    Had Evans threatened her teacher, the school would have had a case. But she didn’t. Pretending that there is no difference between criticism – even mean criticism -ÿand threats is both stupid and dangerous. For one thing, it threatens to quash legitimate criticism; for another, it corrodes the seriousness of genuine threats.

    What’s particularly disturbing is that Evans is being punished for making her views public. As Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times, “”If Katie Evans said what she said over burgers with her friends at the mall, there is no question it would be protected by free speech.”” Posting something on the Internet does not render the First Amendment null and void.

    The very notion of “”cyberbullying”” is preposterous when applied to an adult – particularly a teacher. If a teacher is prepared to crumple up and sob at the thought that one of her students might not like her, she’d better start looking for another job.

    What sort of lesson does this teach America’s students? One of Evans’s fellow classmates told the British newspaper, the Guardian: “”She made her dislike for her far too public. She messed up.”” Is that what we want students to learn – that you shouldn’t make your “”dislike”” of anyone public? That expressing a negative opinion of an authority figure is something to be punished?

    As college students, it’s easy to feel distant from this sort of thing. Sure, they can get away with treating students like that in the public schools, but that could never happen here, right?

    Think again.

    As the Daily Wildcat reported in Monday’s Police Beat, a student was referred to the Dean of Students Office Feb. 2 for sending “”unwanted”” e-mails to a former professor who he felt had been biased against him.

    Instead of telling him to get lost, the professor decided to report these e-mails -ÿwhich, judging from the excerpts published, were neither threatening nor even particularly mean -ÿto the police. Now, apparently, expressing any criticism of a professor whatsoever will earn you a visit to the Dean of Students Office.

    We’d all like the world to be a nice place. We’d all prefer that people express their feelings in a pleasant way. But the world doesn’t work like that, and attempting to enforce “”niceness”” by referring its violators to the principal’s office, or the police, isn’t merely unconstitutional. It’s also doomed to failure.

    Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Cody Calamaio, Justyn Dillingham, Taylor Kessinger, Heather Price-Wright, and Nickolas Seibel.

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