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Law professor comments on free speech issue at local school

May 02, 2012

James Weinstein, Amelia Lewis Professor of Constitutional Law at the College of Law, was quoted in an April 30 article in The Arizona Republic, "Free speech, social media collide at Goodyear school," by reporter Eddi Trevizo.

The article reported on the difficulty administrators have in balancing student privacy, the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect young people from online harassment or bullying. In March, students, teachers and administrators at Millennium High School in Goodyear, were besieged with anonymous Facebook comments ridiculing their work ethic, social status, physical appearance and sexual relationships. Because of Facebook’s online-privacy policies and vague state laws governing such posts, officials were powerless to stop the comments, even though some felt they were disruptive to the school environment.

Weinstein said that disciplining private online behavior isn’t an option because students and adults use it as a medium for the democratic right to free expression.

“Not just to say what you want, but the right to democratic expression and to criticize authority when they have legitimate concerns,” Weinstein said.

He said students’ rights to free speech are treated differently from adults only if officials can prove that the speech has substantially disrupted the school environment. Weinstein also said that courts are wary of restricting Internet activity.

“The Supreme Court expressly recognizes the Internet as an essential medium of democratic discourse (and) has ferociously protected the Internet from government regulation,” he said.

To read the article, click here.

Weinstein’s areas of academic interest are constitutional law, especially free speech, as well as jurisprudence and legal history. He is co-editor of "Extreme Speech and Democracy," the author of "Hate Speech, Pornography and the Radical Attack on Free Speech Doctrine," and has written numerous articles in law review symposia on a variety of free speech topics, including: free speech theory, obscenity doctrine, institutional review boards, commercial speech, database protection, campaign finance reform, the relationship between free speech and constitutional rights, hate crimes, and campus speech codes.