A Christian legal firm is taking action against Copper Hills High School for allegedly violating the First Amendment rights of conservative students. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter to the Utah high school after the administration censored students of the Turning Point USA chapter.
Turning Point USA is a non-profit grassroots organization that seeks to educate, train, and organize high school and college students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.
According to the letter, the student group was instructed to remove “USA” from the name of its chapter after Copper Hills’ principal, Brian Veazie, said that Turning Point USA is a “radical Republican group,” “far-right,” and “extreme.” He stated that Jordan School District, of which Copper Hills is a part, had barred the group from affiliating with Turning Point USA.
A month later, the chapter received approval to put up a table to recruit members. The group displayed posters, pins, and stickers expressing its views. A few days later, the assistant principal ordered the group to shut down its table and to remove its posters, saying the messaging did not represent both sides. She then took the chapter members to the principal’s office.
Veazie told the students that they had to balance out their speech with opposing views. He wanted the chapter to focus on creating a welcome, safe, and comfortable environment. He said there was no policy in place to determine what speech was allowed, but that he had the power to make those decisions by assessing by the standards of what is good and bad, the pros and cons, and the unintended consequences.
Later, Veazie said that the group’s speech was censored because they had not received the school’s consent. He urged them not to say things that could be perceived as offensive.
ADF claims that the school and district do not require the other student groups to follow the same rules.
The legal organization alleges that the actions of the school violate the Equal Access Act and the First Amendment. ADF Legal Counsel Mathew Hoffmann said,
“Students of any political, religious, or ideological persuasion should be able to freely and peacefully speak with their fellow students about their views. School officials at Copper Hills cannot prevent students from speaking just because they disagree with their points of view. District and school officials must abide by the law, including the First Amendment, and respect the expression of different opinions in their schools.”
ADF Senior Counsel Gregg Walters added,
“Public high schools ought to foster a diverse range of ideas and perspectives and model for young people what it looks like to discuss important topics in a civil manner. Instead, at Copper Hills, we see school officials censoring speech and punishing students who adhere to a particular ideology. As our letter explains, the officials’ actions violate the students’ freedom of speech and equal access and should be corrected to avoid the possibility of legal action.”
If the allegations are true, the school has placed the authority to police speech in the hands of one person. In this case, the principal — who is clearly biased against conservative views and Turning Point USA — should not be allowed to censor groups based on their beliefs, especially since students have no avenue to protect their constitutional rights other than by hiring a constitutional lawyer.
Turning Point USA has a conservative point of view, just like other student groups at Copper Hills High School have a progressive point of view. The reason for groups like this is not to promote both sides, but to advocate for a particular view and to allow students with shared interests to gather together. Students still have First Amendment rights and none should be censored — nor forced to espouse ideas they disagree with — so long as it’s not disruptive to the school’s mission, a point that the Supreme Court has upheld in numerous rulings, including in Tinker v. Des Moines.
The Bible doesn’t explicitly address the concept of free speech, but it does provide a lot of guidance on exactly how we are to use our speech. It reminds us repeatedly that words are powerful and should be used with care, as they can uplift and persuade or they can badly damage other people and the speaker’s relationship and credibility with those people.
Colossians 4:6 tells us to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” while Proverbs 15:1-2 explains that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.”
There is no charge that the conservative students at Copper Hills High School were being hostile, cruel, snarky, or deceptive in their efforts to engage, inform, or persuade other students to their conservative point of view nor did their speech substantially disrupt school activities. Instead, the principal is focused not on the manner of their speech but the content of it. And his response to that was to censor the students’ speech and viewpoint because it either doesn’t align with his own political beliefs and/or he is worried that the majority will react badly to that viewpoint.
This goes against the Bible’s admonition for leaders to be fair and judicious, as seen in Proverbs 16:11, which says, “A just balance and scales belong to the Lord; all the weights of the bag are His concern.”
Under the American form of government, the people have a right to freely express ideas and concepts and to attempt to persuade others to their point of view — so long as they are not being violent, malicious, or deceiving in how they engage and persuade.
If a school like Copper Hills is going to allow students to start groups that advocate for political ideas and viewpoints, it needs to allow all viewpoints. In this case, the principal has one set of rules for groups that follow the more acceptable progressive narrative and orthodoxy and another set for a conservative student group whose beliefs he has unfairly and ignorantly characterized as “radical” just because those students believe differently than the majority does.
That’s un-American at its heart, but it’s also a prescription for bad leadership.