ACLU praises school system in free speech cases

constitutionThe ACLU of Virginia on Monday sent a letter to the Fairfax County School Board thanking the Board and Superintendent for upholding free speech in two recent incidents: a parent’s attempt to have a book removed from the curriculum, and a request that a community group be denied permission to use school property for a controversial meeting. The school division denied the requests in both instances.

“It is heartening to see a school division stand up to pressure to restrict free expression,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, who wrote the letter. “Fairfax County Public Schools deserves credit for doing the right thing in both these cases.”

In the first incident, a parent requested that Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel, Beloved, be removed from the curriculum of an AP English course, citing violent and sexual imagery. Superintendent Jack Dale refused to remove the book, and the School Board upheld his decision.

The ACLU letter states that books like Beloved help students “develop the faculties of empathy and critical thinking that are essential preparation for responsible citizenship and leadership. Thank you for continuing to provide such educational opportunities to Fairfax County students.”

In the second incident, the Republican Women of Clifton reserved space at Fairview Elementary School to hold a meeting at which a guest speaker would discuss “the treatment of women in Islamic society and how she believes the Hijab is a catalyst for Islamic terrorism.” When a community group asked the Superintendent to disallow the group’s meeting, he declined to do so, and said in an e-mail, “After school hours, anyone may rent the public facility.”

The ACLU letter applauds this decision, stating: “In the true spirit of the First Amendment, the Superintendent declined to deviate from a policy of equal access to school facilities. Such evenhanded treatment is the only way to ensure a vital marketplace of ideas.”

“Though we often criticize school officials for their infringement on student free speech rights, we are happy to be able to thank them when they uphold the First Amendment,” said Gastañaga. “The Fairfax County School Board and Superintendent are teaching their students an important lesson about the value of allowing all viewpoints to be heard.”


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