Students Have a Right to Political Speech, Says ACLU
DAYTON—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the city of Dayton today expressing concern over censorship of art by local high school students. City officials asked the Dayton Regional STEM School to remove artwork from the Dayton Convention Center which depicted students’ perceptions of the African American experience.
“The decision by city officials to remove student artwork because of its political nature is an inexcusable act of censorship,” said Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio. “Dayton is telling its young people that the answer to speech you don’t agree with is to silence the speaker. If we really value free expression and teaching young people to think for themselves, we must be prepared for messages that are difficult to hear.”
Students from the STEM school created artwork critiquing negative stereotypes of American Americans and drawing comparisons between past and present movements for racial justice. The city of Dayton asked that the artwork be removed because of the political nature of the subject matter and complaints from people who saw the exhibit.
Read the letter to Dayton officials.
“The city is clearly sending a message that expressing controversial or unpopular opinions will not be tolerated,” Link said. “Schools should be a place where young people are taught to think critically about important social issues. While the school encouraged thoughtful reflection from students, city officials reacted by unfairly and unconstitutionally censoring these young people.”
The ACLU letter asks that the city issue a public apology and a statement acknowledging its First Amendment obligations to these students and to the public.
“It should never be the job of government to decide which messages are acceptable for the public to see and hear. If we give young people the platform to speak, we need to be ready to hear what they have to say.”
Students whose work was removed are encouraged to contact the ACLU at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 216-472-2220.