Free Speech in Schools? Well…sort of…

By Sam Ventola,

  Filed under: Constitutional
  Comments: None

school deskMany people worry that they may be breaking a rule in their public school if their child carries a Bible in class, or wears a cross or Star of David. We will cover freedom of religion in schools in a later article. Today we consider a recent decision on a related topic, free speech in schools.

In 2011, the federal court of appeals for the seventh circuit (which includes Chicago) decided Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School District # 204. There, the school district permitted students to participate in a “day of silence” to celebrate homosexuality. On the day of silence participating students would remain silent except when called on in class, and would wear pro-gay t-shirts.

On the next day of school, students against homosexuality participated in a “day of truth,” which included the wearing of t-shirts against homosexuality, stating “be happy not gay.” The school disciplined students wearing the anti-homosexuality t-shirts by requiring their removal or sending them home. The school district’s claim was that they should be able to censor the anti-homosexuality messages because they made other students feel bad.

The federal court of appeals held in favor of the students. Noting that the school had allowed the pro-homosexual messages, they could not censor anti-homosexual messages based on a concern of hard feelings. The court stated “people in our society do not have a legal right to prevent criticism of their beliefs or even their way of life.

In many ways Zamecnik was an easy case, because the school was allowing one set of messages while trying to silence the opposing view. Harder cases are presented where the school district claims that it is limiting all messages in order to preserve school order. Watch this space for other developments in free speech and religion in public schools.

If you have questions regarding the First Amendment, free speech or any other legal issue, contact our office by telephone at (303) 864-9797 or email at

Sam Ventola

Sam Ventola has a wide variety of experience in litigation, legal education, and mediation. He has been an attorney on both sides in business litigation, employment disputes, probate litigation, and personal injury cases. In addition to being an attorney, he has been a mediator, hearing officer, labor relations professor, and lecturer on litigation, employment and First Amendment issues. He has also achieved the rating of AV Preeminent® by Martindale Hubbell.


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