Symbols and students’ free speech rights

In your Sept. 5 “Keepin’ It Kleen” column, it might also be a good idea to keep it honest as well, for I strongly suspect the real issue at stake in that lawsuit is not the violation of a student’s First Amendment rights, but rather the issue is about the amendment that comes right after the First Amendment, and perhaps the Student Life Manager at the time of the Cellitti incident, recognized that the “inoffensive” Don’t Tread on Me emblem of a coiled rattlesnake, is recognized in many quarters as a symbol for the Conceal/Carry movement, which has been a heated issue at Rock Valley College in the past. At any rate, I doubt if Cellitti, nor columnist Michael Kleen, can expect the public humbling of RVC officials anytime soon regarding the lawsuit, because various court rulings have given school authorities considerable latitude in certain free speech matters affecting the welfare and safety of their students.

The most recent case was the U.S. Supreme Court “Bong Hits for Jesus” ruling, a 6-3 decision in which Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court’s majority, held that school officials had the right to censure and remove a huge sign that read “Bong Hits for Jesus” at a school event, even though the sign, with its drug reference, was displayed by its carrier on public property away from the school. Justice Breyer, a dissenter, nonethless stated he would have granted the student involved in the matter with only limited immunity.

Some courts are also recognizing the problem our nation’s campuses are facing with on-campus gun violence, such as right here in Illinois at NIU, for example, and are providing latitude with that issue in mind.

Even the 2008 Heller Ruling, establishing the constitutionality of gun ownership, provides for numerous limits to that right, so before we jump to the defense of First Amendment freedom of expression, we need free access to the pertinent information that’s being claimed as a violation of those rights.

Tim Hughes

From the Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2012, issue

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