Ethics: When Free Speech Isn’t Free

The Dilemma

Tameka Scroggins loves being student council president at Torrance High School. As the youngest of four kids, she has always struggled to make her voice heard, but in this position, people actually stop talking long enough to listen to what she has to say.

That newfound power has prompted her to become outspoken about issues affecting her community. When the city council holds a public meeting about a proposal to remove a camp for homeless people near downtown, she signs up to speak and gives an impassioned plea on behalf of these voiceless residents of the city. One of the local TV stations even features a snippet of her speaking at the podium in her Torrance Tigers sweatshirt.

Her pride lasts until second period the next day, when Principal Tyrone Buskirk calls her to his office. He says that as student council president she shouldn’t be making public statements like that without his permission. Plus, from what he saw, he doesn’t think what she said was correct or well thought out.

When Tameka says she didn’t do anything wrong — and what about the First Amendment? — he demands that she apologize or step down as student council president.

What should she do?

For Discussion

Read the dilemma aloud to your youth. Ask someone to find and read the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (It’s only 45 words, so they could read it a couple of times.)

Discuss these questions:

  • What parts of the amendment relate to what Tameka did at the council meeting? (Hint: It’s freedom of speech and the right to petition the government.)
  • Was it ethical for her to appear at the meeting in a Torrance Tigers sweatshirt? Why or why not?
  • Was it ethical for her to appear at the meeting since she is student council president? Why or why not?
  • Would your answer be different if she had identified herself at the meeting as student council president? Why or why not?
  • Does it make any difference whether her comments were correct and well thought out? Why or why not?
  • Is it ethical for Principal Scroggins to demand that she apologize or step down as student council president? Why or why not?
  • What control, if any, do you think a principal should have over students’ speech, both inside and outside school?

Finally, invite your Scouts or Venturers to decide what steps Tameka should take next. What could she do that would honor both her beliefs and the principal’s authority?

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.