Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is "safe sex" speech protected at "abstinence-only" schools?

Two Illinois high school students were recently suspended from school for wearing shirts reading "Safe Sex or No Sex," and decorated with condoms. They were dissatisfied with their school's "abstinence-only" approach to sex education. The girls are to be commended for speaking up. (I'm reminded, fondly, of my own first adolescent gropings toward political activism.)

One immediately wonders, of course, whether the girls have a viable First Amendment claim. The lesson of Morse v. Frederick, it seems, is that schools can punish student speech if it promotes activity the school is legitimately trying to discourage. The school would argue that the t-shirts were promoting teen sex, contrary to the school's abstinence curriculum, and that this is analogous to a message promoting drug use. The decision in Frederick was narrowly framed, however, and the Court disclaimed any application to "political speech."

Is "Safe Sex or No Sex" political speech? It seems to me that there are two messages here: (1) advocating that those who choose to have sex use protection, and (2) protesting the school's curriculum. The latter is clearly political speech. The former is arguably political as well, since it a message of significant social important, and "political speech" has always been broadly construed. It seems to me disingenuous to say that the shirts promoted teens having sex per se, but of course whether promoting safe sex is promoting sex is, in a way, the crux of the debate over traditional vs. abstinence-only sex ed. Moreover, unlike Frederick, there is no indication that criminal activity is being advocated, since most teen sex is perfectly legal (although, most would say, contrary to public policy).

While this story may never become a lawsuit, many teens across the nation have similar sentiments, and this particular controversy is likely to be replicated, and sooner or later, litigated.


Anonymous said...

What exactly do people who support these girls think 'safe sex' is?
If you do your homework, you'll find that most teens who are having
sex and are using condoms don't use them correctly or every time.
Plus the condoms break quite often.
So how is this safe sex?
Pregnancy is not desired for our teens. It's a hard road, but survivable.
But there are many STD's that are even more difficult to bear.
Have any of you heard of the STD, HPV before?
A condom isn't guaranteed protection from this awful disease.
And, you can contract it just by touching 'particular areas' of the body.
20 million people currently have this disease many contracted in their teens.
About 6.2 million Americans get a new HPV infection each year.
Don't believe me...check out the Center of Disease Control's website.
And if you think that the Gardisil shot will protect your teen,
the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV.
It only protects from four strains and there are 30.
And it also greatly increases your daughter or future daughter in laws
risk for cervical cancer; many years down the road.
I've talked with Many teens both male and female who have been involved
sexually. I can tell you that most regret it and wish they'd waited.

So, wouldn't you prefer your teens wait for a partner who is 100% positive that
they'll not bring disease into their lives. Or don't you prefer your teen find a spouse one day
that doesn't bring a bunch of horrible baggage with them? Or find out that they now have cervical
cancer from a bad choice when they were a teen?
I know I do. I want the absolute best for my kids. That's why I teach them to wait
for ALL sexual activity until marriage.

Élise Hendrick said...

The trouble with basing any decision on the reasoning of Morse is that, reading the court's opinion, it seems that none of them were all that sure what the hell kind of speech Bong hits 4 Jesus actually is. The entire treatment of the nature of the message is pretty convoluted, and seems to assign a substantial amount of interpretive power to the school administration.

ه¢hĬ¢kعиMÅيtعяه said...

o yea well I think you people are dumb if u wait tell your married 2 have sex cause your missing out on the good stuff its fun and gives u something 2 do when your bored jus poll before u cum... And condoms take away allll the filling u can’t fill nothing so I prefer to do it the way we were made to with out condoms…

Anonymous said...

How do you think credit crunch affected porn?