Saxe v. State College Area School District, 240 F.3d 200 (3rd Cir. 2001)
Two high school students challenged a school district's anti-harassment policy, contending it violated their First Amendment rights. The students believed that the policy prohibited them from voicing their religious belief that homosexuality was a sin.
The policy provided several examples of harassment, including: "any unwelcome verbal, written or physical conduct which offends, denigrates or belittles an individual" because of "race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other personal characteristics." The district court ruled the policy constitutional. The students appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Whether a high school anti-harassment policy that prohibits a broad range of speech offensive to others violates the First Amendment.
In a 3-0 decision, a Third Circuit panel held that such a broadly worded policy prohibits too much speech and violates the First Amendment.
The policy prohibits a substantial amount of speech that is neither vulgar within the meaning of the Fraser standard nor school-sponsored within the meaning of the Hazelwood standard. It even prohibits speech that harasses someone based on "clothing, physical appearance, social skills, peer group, intellect, educational program, hobbies, or values."
The policy must be judged under the Tinker "substantial disruption" test. This policy could essentially be applied to any speech that another might find offensive. "This could include much 'core' political and religious speech," the panel wrote. "The policy, then, appears to cover substantially more speech than could be prohibited under Tinker’s substantial disruption test."
"No court or legislature has ever suggested that unwelcome speech directed at another's 'values' may be prohibited under the rubric of anti-discrimination." (Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr.)
Monday, May 20, 2013 | 10:52:26