A former student body president at Alpharetta High School in Georgia has filed a federal lawsuit, accusing the school of violating his First Amendment right to express unpopular viewpoints.
Reuben Black, 18, says the school removed him from his elected role after he offered what some are calling a "gay prom proposal." Black suggested that the school change "Prom King and Queen" to "Prom Court." He felt the gender-neutral term would be more inclusive of LGBT students.
Black further asserts that he brought up the gay prom proposal at two separate student council meetings, reports WSB-TV. Faculty advisors shut down that discussion both times. Soon after the second incident, school administrators removed him from the leadership position.
School attorneys claim he was removed because he was a poor leader, explains the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He's accused of rescheduling meetings at the last minute and ignoring faculty instructions. Reuben Black says the removal was punishment for "pushing personal projects."
As written in the seminal school speech case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." As long as student speech is not disruptive to the school environment, it is protected by the First Amendment. This is even true of unpopular sentiments.
Reuben Black's gay prom proposal doesn't appear to have caused any on-campus disruption, and is therefore likely to be considered protected speech. If Alpharetta High School took action against him as a result of the proposal, then it is has probably violated Black's constitutional rights.
- Lawsuit: Student Body President Removed Over Gay Prom Proposal (ABC News)
- Free Speech Lawsuits Involving Public Schools (FindLaw)
- Schools Can Punish Students for Off-Campus Speech (FindLaw's Decided)