This always struck me as preposterous. Of course students shed some of their rights at the schoolhouse gate. That's the whole idea behind the concept of in loco parentis. Teachers and administrators get to act like your parents while you're at school. And parents are not required to respect the constitutional rights of their kids. Tell me, do hall-pass requirements restrict the First Amendment right of free assembly? Don't many of the same people who claim that you have free-speech rights in public schools also insist that you don't have the right to pray in them?
Still, such buffoonery would be pardonable if the grand bargain of defending marginal speech so as to better fortify the protective cocoon around sacrosanct political speech were still in effect. But that bargain fell apart almost from the get-go. At the same moment we were letting our freak flags fly when it came to unimportant speech, we started turning the screws on political speech. After Watergate, campaign finance laws started restricting what independent political groups could say and when they could say it, culminating in the McCain-Feingold law that barred "outside" criticism of politicians when it would matter most - i.e., around an election.
And that's why we live in a world where cutting NEA grants is called censorship, a student's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" sign is hailed as vital political speech, and a group of citizens asking fellow citizens to petition their elected representatives to change their minds is supposedly guilty of illegal speech.
That is until this week. In one case, the Supreme Court ruled that a student attending a mandatory school event can be disciplined by the school's principal for holding up a sign saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," and in another it ruled that a pro-life group can, in fact, urge citizens to contact their senators even if one of the senators happens to be running for re-election. Staggeringly, these were close and controversial calls.
Many self-described liberals and reformers think it should be the other way around. Teenage students should have unfettered free-speech rights, while grown-up citizens should stay quiet, like good little boys and girls. Thank goodness at least five Supreme Court justices disagreed.