Monday, November 05, 2007


Amicus Highlights, Paraphrased
Re; Thomas Jefferson Center
For The Protection Of Free Expression
In Support Of Avery Doninger

The Thomas Jefferson Center For The Protection Of Free Expression, located in Charlottesville, Va., is devoted solely to the protection of free speech and free press. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organization based at the University of Virginia Law School.


* Avery Doninger and others were reprimanded for seeking community support so a battle of the bands could be held in their high school auditorium.

* Although the language of Avery's LiveJournal posting was coarse and disrespectful, the substance was unmistakably political: Avery criticized the administration and its policy choices regarding Jamfest and entreated members of the LiveJournal community to express their opinions on the matter.

* Subsequent to community feedback, the administration rescheduled Jamfest in the auditorium.

* Lewis Mills High School Principal Karissa Niehoff declared that sending emails "directly to the public was not an appropriate means of resolving complaints."

* Those who administer the nation's public schools in complex and challenging times are surely not lacking in remedies by which to maintain order and ensure the integrity of the educational process. Indeed, when a principal or superintendent reacts as Paula Schwartz or Niehoff did in this case to unwelcome messages, such reprisal sends to the school community a message that is profoundly at odds with the best values and interests of education in a democratic society and preparation for citizenship.

* Judge Mark Kravitz erred in sustaining suppression of admittedly unwelcome messages by Schwartz and Niehoff. Kravitz departed markedly from consistent and conscientious application of precedents.

* When a principal or a superintendent punishes an otherwise model student for speaking impertinently or disrespectfully of authority, such action conveys the worst possible lesson, not only to the speaker but to the whole school community. The clear message is that conformity and obedience will be rewarded, while dissonance and independence may risk disapproval or worse. The nature of the punishment is also noteworthy; by refusing to acknowledge Avery Doninger's write-in victory, the school is sending the message that votes do not count - a dangerous civics lesson.

* Reversal of the ruling challenged here would hardly leave school officials powerless to preserve both dignity and discipline against genuinely rebellious or contemptuous students. At the very least, principals and superintendents enjoy their own freedom of expression, and might discover the ultimate value of counter-speech or refutation as against repression or punishment รข€¦ Viable options included a stern verbal rebuke from administrators, or simply meeting with Avery and her parents to discuss the problem.


  • Prior Amicus Filing by Marty Margulies

  • Quinnipiac Forum Thursday

  • Watching Over Our Children

  • More About the Thomas Jefferson Center

    The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is a unique organization, devoted solely to the defense of free expression in all its forms. While its charge is sharply focused, the Center’s mission is broad. It is as concerned with the musician as with the mass media, with the painter as with the publisher, and as much with the sculptor as the editor.

    Located in Charlottesville,Virginia, the Center enjoys close ties to the University of Virginia, but is an autonomous, not-for-profit entity. Its independence is assured by an outstanding Board of Trustees. The Board’s members reflect a broad spectrum of views, yet share a commitment to protecting the right of others to express views different from their own. Indeed, recognizing that threats to free expression come from all parts of the political spectrum, the Center maintains a nonpartisan stance in all that it does.

    Since its founding in 1990, the Center has fulfilled its mission through a wide range of programs in education and the arts, and active participation in judicial and legislative matters involving free expression. Each year on or near April 13 (the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson) the Center focuses national attention on especially egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression by awarding Jefferson Muzzles to responsible individuals or organizations. The Center also recognizes those who have shown extraordinary devotion to the principles of free expression through its William J. Brennan, Jr., Award.

    Shaping the Law Often, the only way to obtain meaningful protection for speech and press is through the legislative or judicial process. On numerous occasions, the Center’s director has been asked to testify before Congressional committees and state legislatures on a wide variety of First Amendment issues including regulation of commercial speech, regulation of television violence, campaign finance reform, and mandated public access to broadcast air time.The Center’s legal staff is often called upon to intervene in response to specific acts of censorship. Such intervention might be as informal as a telephone call or letter, or as involved as filing an amicus curiae brief in a legal case involving an important First Amendment issue. A number of the Center’s briefs are digitally archived.

    Education Convinced that an informed citizenry is the strongest defense of free expression, the Thomas Jefferson Center has made education the cornerstone of all its programs. The Center reaches out to the public through its many conferences and colloquiums. Recognizing that constructive symbolism has long been a catalyst for public awareness, the Center has commissioned two designs for First Amendment Monuments. For members of the media, attorneys, government officials, legislative bodies, and private citizens across the country, the Center serves as an important source of information on speech and press issues. The Center’s staff undertakes numerous speaking engagements throughout the country addressing civic groups, bar associations, arts councils, schools, colleges and universities. A number of these programs are digitally archived and may be heard through the Charlottesville Podcasting Network.

    In response to reports of growing intolerance and efforts to curb academic freedom at colleges and universities, The Thomas Jefferson Center and The Ford Foundation have launched "Difficult Dialogues," an initiative designed to help institutions address this challenge through academic and campus programs that enrich learning, encourage new scholarship and engage students and faculty in constructive dialogue about contentious political, religious, racial and cultural issues.

    The Arts Throughout history, artists have struggled to create and exhibit their work while around them forces assembled to reduce art to orthodoxy. Today, artists continue to balance on the cutting edge of social parameters, and are often the most susceptible to censorship. For the Thomas Jefferson Center, the arts are not only a form of expression that need protection, but also a dynamic means to enlighten the public about the role of free expression in society.

    In addition to providing legal assistance in litigation involving the arts, the Thomas Jefferson Center undertakes a variety of activities designed to create greater appreciation for the right of artistic expression by simply celebrating that right. Recent efforts in the arts include:

    ART ON TRIAL, a virtual art exhibit that explores the relationship between artistic expression and the First Amendment right of free speech.

    FIRST AMENDMENT WRITES, an annual poetry and songwriting contest designed to celebrate the creative heights that can only be achieved when artists are free to express themselves on any theme, subject or idea.

    THE LAND WITHOUT LIBERTY, a captivating children’s musical designed to make children laugh while teaching an important lesson — to always appreciate living in a country in which they are free to speak out about their beliefs. The play is available for schools, colleges, and professional theater troupes to perform at no charge. Any persons interested in arranging a production of The Land Without Liberty simply need to contact the Center.

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