First Amendment Issues Raised Over Suspensions

By: Michael Gorsegner
By: Michael Gorsegner

February 3, 2006

A group of 20 students at a Fluvanna County school were suspended because of things they posted on an Internet website. Some wonder if the students had their First Amendment rights violated.

Gabriel Johnson is a student at Open Door Christian School in Fluvanna County. She and 19 classmates were suspended after her principal found website postings on the site She feels the Principal's actions were unjustified.

"It basically happened at home and it is not like we were logging onto the school computers so it was really none of their business," she said.

The postings included a picture of a woman dressed in a bikini holding a paintball gun, a Victoria Secrets model, and some questionable language. The principal found the materials offensive and suspended the students. But is this a violation of the students First Amendment rights?

"The protections of the First Amendment only apply to acts of government censorship," said Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Wheeler says if this was a public school, the student's rights would be protected. But because the school is not publicly funded, the principal wields the ultimate power.

"In this case, given that it's a private school, it's hard for me to see how the First Amendment is even implicated," he said.

Two calls to the school by reporters went unreturned prior to the airing of this story. Johnson's father said he is so upset, he has hired an attorney to look into the case.

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