Don’t Question the Coach

August 3, 2007

Today, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision (pdf) which is potentially dangerous to student free speech rights. A panel of the appeals court ruled that student athletes who circulated a petition opposing a high school football coach do not enjoy constitutional protection of this kind of expression. (While this case involved high school students, not the college students that concern FIRE, we still keep close watch on such decisions because the rights of high-schoolers often serve as a “firewall” protecting the rights of college students.) In its finding, the court reasoned that the petition could potentially be disruptive to the coach’s authority and that the speech was thus not protected under the substantial disruption standard announced in Tinker v. Des Moines Area School District. For commentary on this decision, make sure to check out the analysis by Eugene Volokh over at the Volokh Conspiracy.