Letter: High schools have the right to decide hallway displays

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Editor,

I graduated from CHS in May 2015, and as a student there I started the first and only non-partisan political discussion club, inviting students from all backgrounds to come and learn about public affairs with a variety of perspectives. Our goal was fostering curiosity, tolerance, respect, and most importantly an acknowledgement of the complexity and nuance behind public policy. Our visitors included Mayor Brainard and Congresswoman Brooks.

I will never forget the day after school where our U.S. Congresswoman sat before an audience of 50-plus students and faculty of diverse political perspectives, answering all of their questions one by one about various topics.

Believe me – I certainly commend and respect the enthusiasm of CHS Teens for Life and their devotion to a policy cause, moreover their effort to spread their views and bring others into the process. This runs the same for any teenager looking to get involved in public policy – CHS Republicans, Democrats, Teens for Life, Teens for Choice, anything.

First, what we must remember is that the First Amendment (like all other rights) is not unlimited. There is legal precedent to support that not only are students entitled to free, unlimited speech but that nobody is entitled to free, unlimited speech. Carmel High School (and any public high school) is allowed to regulate what is put up on their walls and viewed by their students just as the City is allowed to regulate what is put up on their walls within City Hall and viewed by residents of Carmel. Movie theaters can regulate what people yell in movie theaters – they could perhaps allow people to yell in happiness and enjoyment when the Death Star plans were finally transmitted to the Rebel Fleet at the end of Rogue One, but they are allowed to prohibit people from yelling “fire!” when there is no fire.

Second, let us remember that abortion – like any topic of public policy – is complex and nuanced, and cannot be reduced to a poster. High school is a very formative time for millions of young Americans throughout the country, and for some the last branch of mandatory education. It is absolutely understandable that CHS puts a commitment to ensuring students are given a wholesome education and overall environment. I believe had a pro-choice group put up a poster saying something pro-choice such as “Banning abortion denies Americans equal protection under the law” on a cafeteria wall, CHS would rightfully take it down.

Finally, on a shorter note, I want to convey my frustration that based on the statement released from the school district, it seems that the matter was supposed to be private. It is disappointing that Liberty Counsel went public. I believe that this should have been a learning experience for both the administration and students on topics of discussing and advocating political stances – but turned into a polarizing battle.

In sum: high schools have the right to decide what is put up in their hallways for thousands of students to see, and high schools have the right to ensure students are being taught to think critically and understand the complexities and nuance in public policy.

I hope CHS Teens for Life continues to assemble after-school and market (fairly) students to their cause, and encourage participation in public policy issues such as abortion. I hope CHS continues to ensure students are taught the implications and ethics behind participating in political and governmental causes. I also hope CHS finally gets around to renovating those E hall bathrooms.

Krishna Pathak, Indiana University 2019

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