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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ind. Decisions - Continuing coverage of: "'Honk for peace' case tests limits on free speech"

The U.S. Supreme Court should be deciding shortly whether to hear the "honk for peace" case - see a list of earlier ILB entries here.

Today the Orlando Sentinel has a story on the case, reported by Tamara Lytle, headed "Fired teacher honking for justice: Now in Osceola, she is appealing her dismissal in Indiana to the U.S. Supreme Court." It begins:

Kissimmee Middle School reading teacher Deborah Mayer said her world has been "devastated" by four words she uttered in an Indiana classroom four years ago: "I honk for peace."

Mayer, who now lives in Celebration, was fired from her teaching job in Bloomington, Ind., after that 2003 comment. Now she's appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, asserting that her dismissal for expressing her political views violated her First Amendment rights.

It's a case with national implications for what teachers can -- and can't -- say in a public-school classroom.

"This has been devastating to me," Mayer, 57, said of her case, which has cost her $70,000 in legal fees. "What's important is that when I decided to stand up for my rights and take this school system to court, the court said teachers have no right of free speech."

But Thomas Wheeler, attorney for the Monroe County Community School Corp., said her real problem is she was a bad teacher. Besides, he said, teachers don't have First Amendment rights in the classroom because they teach a curriculum decided by state and local officials. So far, lower courts have agreed -- and the Supreme Court has not decided whether to hear her appeal.

Martin Sweet, an assistant professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, said Mayer's case has a decent chance of getting a hearing.

"The First Amendment does not go away for either teachers or students. But it has to be measured," he said. One measure is subject matter, he said: A teacher discussing current events could more appropriately voice political opinions than, for instance, a biology teacher.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 13, 2007 09:06 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions