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An ethnic literature class that ran as a course pilot at San Dieguito Academy has been adopted into the district's course catalog. File photo
An ethnic literature class that ran as a course pilot at San Dieguito Academy has been adopted into the district's course catalog. File photo
Community CommentaryOpinion

Commentary: SDUHSD vs. free speech rights

By Leila Currah

Amidst ongoing controversy in the San Dieguito Union High School District, at a board meeting on Oct. 13, Board Trustee Katrina Young proposed a hate speech resolution that sought to dampen First Amendment rights.

The proposed resolution explicitly encouraged Board Trustees to denounce “hate speech” during public board meetings in an effort to shame parents and citizens who express viewpoints that she finds offensive.

The school district received letters from lawyers outlining the reasons why the resolution is unconstitutional, and anyone who understands the US Constitution can see that the resolution undermines the First Amendment.

Constitutional scholars agree that rigorous public discourse depends on the free exchange of ideas, regardless of how disagreeable one may find them.

Yet even after both legal analysis and illumination by members of the public about the grave dangers of attempting to regulate speech, Young and Trustee Julie Bronstein chose to vote in favor of the resolution. The resolution failed to pass with a 2-2 vote when Mo Muir and Michael Allman voted against it.

The sweeping and subjective definition of “hate speech” is one of the resolution’s many problems.

It defines hate speech as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior that attacks… a person… on the basis of who they are,” a definition so broad that it would serve to silence dissenting remarks and criticisms, as well as putting an end to dialogue that is in any way seen as politically incorrect, argumentative, or conflicted.

Trustee Young goes so far as to say that “contentious rhetoric by non-extremist individuals” is also something to be wary of.   That can easily be interpreted to mean that normal people with normal disagreements are no longer welcome to express themselves.

She further threatens to issue district-wide communications to shame people by labeling such remarks as “hate speech.”

This hate speech resolution is nothing short of authoritarian, and if passed would diminish the free exchange of ideas. The Supreme Court has ruled time and again that “hate speech” is protected speech, with only narrow exceptions such as incitement of violence. No school district can or should be engaged in challenging settled law. 

SDUHSD Board Trustees are morally, ethically, and legally bound to defend our constitutional rights, which apply in the public boardroom as earnestly as they do in every sector of public life.

Leila Currah is a Carmel Valley resident and parent in the San Dieguito Union High School District.