The Rochester Public Schools Board recently took steps to protect itself against legal action regarding political speech in the classroom.
Reported first by Power Line, the school board voted unanimously last week to make “Black Lives Matter,” among other phrases, “government speech.” Under this arrangement, the district apparently does not have to create space for dissenting opinions.
Making symbols and slogans like “Black Lives Matter,” “Brown Lives Matter,” “Indigenous Lives Matter,” “All Are Welcome Here,” “Stop Asian Hate,” and the pride flag all forms of government speech means, in theory, that no legal action can be taken against the district for not allowing opposing views.
That’s according to the the board’s attorney, John Edison, who explained, “[By] adopting the messages that you’re adopting as government speech, you’re saying these are the messages that we’re communicating as a school district, and by doing that we’re not also creating a forum to allow other types of speech to enter the forum.”
Edison said that “regulating” speech means a school district must allow both or all views to be expressed. Government speech does not.
With government speech, “it is the government itself that is speaking … it can control what that message is. So, you don’t have the same issue [of] people coming forward and saying that by expressing a certain message you have to allow others to be expressed, too. That concept does not apply when you’re talking about government speech,” according to Edison.
The board said it is “supporting a message of inclusion” with this action. Board members noted that the superintendent may now “promote” government speech “across the district.”
John Hinderaker of Power Line wrote, “The idea of declaring an idea to be ‘government speech’ so as to prohibit anything counter to it seems a bit sinister.”
“Dissent from the ‘Black Lives Matter’ orthodoxy will not be permitted. The government says so,” he wrote.
The school board meeting took place over Zoom, and two board members sported “Black Lives Matter” masks throughout the entirety of the meeting.
At the same meeting, the board narrowly voted to renew the district’s contract with the Rochester Police Department for another year.