By Carly Taylor
For The Diamondback
In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled school officials couldn't punish students if they refused to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance for religious reasons.
That "was the first crack in the door that told us the Constitution existed during the school day," Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte told a group of about 60 people Thursday afternoon.
LoMonte led a discussion about the evolution of students' First Amendment rights and the values of the Supreme Court during a lecture in the journalism school's Eaton Theater. The talk was part of the University of Maryland's Democracy Then & Now Initiative, a series of events aimed to educate students on the relationship between public education and American democracy.
"The rights of young people have actually gotten worse," he said.
After the 1943 decision, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, this era of granting constitutional protection to students reigned until the end of the 1960s. It was a time of protest and reform under the "Warren Court," in which Earl Warren served as Chief Justice, LoMonte said.
But a case in which the court ruled in favor of students who peacefully protested the Vietnam War by wearing arm bands to school served as the Warren Court's "last hoorah," LoMonte said.
"It gets worse from there," he said.
The 1980s represented a time in which the "pendulum of law" swung from valuing individual protection to valuing the authority of schools, he said.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hazelwood East High School's choice to remove what the administration viewed as inappropriate articles from a student newspaper in 1988.
Since the 1980s, LoMonte said, the Supreme Court has ruled in a way that limits the speech of students and defers punishments to the schools.
LoMonte also discussed that while First Amendment rights should not be thrown out in the face of social media, online banter is a uniquely unprotected place, as shown by cases in which students have been expelled due to their rhetoric in virtual arguments.
"Students need to start taking back ownership of campuses that have been stolen from them by corporations," LoMonte said.
Freshman hearing and speech major Ileana Thompson was surprised by LoMonte's message about constitutional rights on the campus.
"I thought the speech would be about the advancement of our rights," Thompson said. "I realized that this is really going backward for students."
The journalism school encouraged students to attend the event, which served as a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment for young journalists.
"Knowing your First Amendment rights as a journalist is critical to making sure you can cover news on campus in a free and open way without fear," said David Ottalini, the college's senior communications manager.
College Park Scholars co-hosted the event, which fit with the program's 2016-17 theme "Power: Citizenship, Circuits, Societies."
"The annual theme was inspired by the upcoming elections," said Marilee Lindemann, executive director of College Park Scholars. "We are encouraging students to go to events like this because they touch on the importance of power and citizenship."