Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights

(Harvard University Press, 2015)

Book Forum
March 16, 2016
12:00PM to 1:30PM
Hayek Auditorium
Featuring the author Catherine J. Ross, Professor of Law, The George Washington University Law School; with comments by Sigal Ben-Porath, Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; and Neal McCluskey, Director of the Center for Educational Freedom, Cato Institute; moderated by John Samples, Vice President and Publisher, Cato Institute.

American public schools often censor controversial student speech that the Constitution protects. Lessons in Censorship brings clarity to a bewildering array of court rulings that define the speech rights of young citizens in the school setting. Ross examines disputes that have erupted in our schools and courts over the civil rights movement; war and peace; rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals (LGBT); abortion; immigration; evangelical proselytizing; and the Confederate flag. She argues that the failure of schools to respect civil liberties betrays their educational mission and threatens democracy.

From the 1940s through the Warren years, the Supreme Court celebrated free expression and emphasized the role of schools in cultivating liberty. But the Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts courts retreated from that vision, curtailing certain categories of student speech in the name of order and authority. Drawing on hundreds of lower court decisions, Ross shows how some judges either misunderstand the law or decline to rein in censorship that is clearly unconstitutional, and she powerfully demonstrates the continuing vitality of the Supreme Court’s initial affirmation of students’ expressive rights.

Lessons in Censorship was named the best book of 2015 on the First Amendment by Concurring Opinions (First Amendment News 91). More reviews of the work may be found at catherinejrosslawprof.com.