Saturday, June 8, 2013

Another valedictorian, another outcome

From Friendly Atheist. A valedictorian in Texas, probably inspired by Roy Costner, began to deviate from his preapproved speech and had his microphone turned off as a result. He apparently began to talk about "freedom of speech" as well as God, Jesus and his religious faith. The school says that the decision to cut off the mike had nothing to do with the religious content of his speech, as "other students were allowed to make religious comments which had been pre-approved." They were also all warned in advance that if they deviated from the pre-approved speech, the mic would be cut, as his was.

Judging from the things he said, this young man seems to feel that the pre-approval of speeches constitutes a violation of his right to freedom of speech. He said, "I worked hard to earn the right to address you all tonight as valedictorian and have the constitutional right, like any of you, to freely speak." But that's not really the case, is it? Valedictorians don't have a free and unlimited right to use their moment in the spotlight for anything they want to discuss, and never have. No reasonable person would support the right of a valedictorian to lecture for ten minutes on her theory that the Holocaust never happened, or to talk about how great he thought Fast and Furious 6 was, or to discuss the care and breeding of Australian Cattle Dogs. Nor would any reasonable person agree that a valedictorian should have the right to harangue the audience for three hours on any subject. The right to speech in this case is granted and limited by the school, and that's as it should be, or kids could get up on stage and derail the graduation ceremony with any craziness that came to mind.

So yes, of course this young man has a right to freedom of speech in general. He can go around praising Jesus all day long on the streets of his town, if he likes. But the school has a right, and in fact a responsibility, to limit the length and content of valedictory speeches and ensure that they are appropriate to the occasion. "Freedom of speech" isn't really the issue here, as it's not unreasonable for the school to ask its speakers to abide by certain rules, up to and including pre-approving the speech for length and content. If you want to talk at length about Jesus, or give a two-hour lecture on how to breed Australian Cattle Dogs, or whatever, you are free to do it on your own time.

In this case, as the school had no way of knowing what the young man would say, and as he'd been warned in advance that he needed to stick to his pre-approved speech, it was entirely reasonable of them to cut the microphone.

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