June 20, 2017

National debate leads to First Amendment smarts at Vero Beach High School

By National debate leads to First Amendment smarts at Vero Beach High School

After more than a month of bad decisions, Indian River County School administrators finally have displayed some smarts. It took an honors student’s steadfast belief in the First Amendment, and worldwide attention, to make it happen.

That honors student — J.P. Krause, a top student, rising senior and the winner of the vote for Vero Beach High School’s senior class presidency — never knew what hit him. His classmates in his Advanced Placement U.S. History class asked him to give a speech in support of his campaign, and his teacher encouraged him to do so. He gave a lighthearted, 2016 presidential campaign-inspired, 90-second speech, and his classmates laughed.

Krause said he was for liberty while his opponent was for higher taxes. He said he was opposed to the rival high school Sebastian River, and his opposing candidate was for it. Krause proposed building a wall between the two schools — and making the other school pay for it. Joy Behar of “The View” later said on national television that J.P.’s off-the-cuff speech was “smart.”

“Smart” — Behar had that right. Indeed, the very next day after the speech — the day of the election — Krause represented Vero Beach High in a national academic competition. He came in 10th individually while his Vero Beach team came in third nationally.

Smart.

Unfortunately, Krause had no idea trouble was afoot back at home. School administrators had learned of his campaign speech and decided it amounted to harassment. Of course, Krause had not harassed anyone in the speech, and anyone who saw the video and knew Krause knew he didn’t and wouldn’t have done so.

The principal disqualified Krause from the office Krause won fair and square, and punished him to boot. To add insult to injury, the principal decided the campaign speech should be entered into Krause’s permanent disciplinary record as harassment.

Not so smart.

When Larry Reisman of this newspaper heard about Krause, he wrote about the unfairness of the situation. Reisman called attention to the fact that Krause had First Amendment rights the school did not consider. Pacific Legal Foundation, for whom I am working as a summer clerk, then got wind of it. Pacific Legal represents individuals and businesses when the government violates their constitutional rights. Punishing Krause for his humorous campaign speech clearly violated Krause’s First Amendment rights.

 Our Founding Fathers did not design the First Amendment to protect feelings. While under certain circumstances schools have the right to punish or censor student speech, this case did not fit those circumstances. Courts have ruled that school policies that go too far to censor speech are unconstitutional. So it is here.

A classmate had recorded the speech; the video demonstrated beyond dispute the school had wronged Krause.

Within days, the entire world had seen the video. Those on the left side of the aisle, including Whoopi Goldberg and Behar on “The View,” and those on the right, including “Fox & Friends” and National Review, all sided with Krause. So did Univision, the New York Daily News and the London Daily Mail. The world took his side because reasonable people on the left, right and center know the First Amendment provides the bedrock for all of our freedoms.

The global attention finally caused some smarts at the local schoolhouse.

Sadly, this local uproar exemplifies a broader phenomenon across the country, where different viewpoints are censored or restricted by both college and high school administrators. The Founding Fathers and First Amendment scholars have recognized the importance of the “marketplace of ideas.” Without it, free speech cannot truly exist.

Upon entering college, campuses greet students with free speech zones, oppressive speech regulations, banned speakers, safe spaces and censorship.Once the epicenter of discussion, debate and learning, campuses have become segregated intellectually, no longer challenging students to stand up, speak and engage civilly with one another.

Americans of all political stripes must speak up to put a stop to this nonsense.

J.P. Krause did nothing wrong. To the contrary, he is a champion of the First Amendment, standing up for his right to speak when so many others would bow down. Vero Beach High School should be proud of its new senior class president. The rest of the world is.

Published by TCPalm

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