Tags: Court | Rules | Violent | Essay | Free | Speech

Court Rules Violent Essay Is Free Speech

Wednesday, 16 May 2001 12:00 AM

The court said the essay, which involved beheading a teacher with a machete, was "repugnant" but not criminal.

The case involved a then-13-year-old boy identified only as Douglas D. who had been thrown out of class Oct. 7, 1998, for being disruptive. The teacher had assigned the class an essay titled "Top Secret," to which each student would add paragraphs.

The disruptive student was sent to the hallway and told to start his essay out there.

At the end of the class period, he returned with four paragraphs describing how a student was thrown out of class and the next day returned with a machete and beheaded a teacher named Mrs. C - the same name often used to address the English teacher.

The essay, with numerous spelling and grammatical errors, read in part: "There once lived an old, ugly woman. Her name was Mrs. C. That stood for crab. She was a mean, old woman who would beat children senseless. I guess that's why she became a teacher. ... The next morning Dick came to class and in his coat he concealed a machete. When the teacher told him to shut up, he whipped it out and cut her head off."

The court noted the essay was written as part of a creative writing class at the direction of the teacher. Had it been written in math class, "we would have a different case before us."

However, the teacher was upset and told an assistant principal. Though Douglas later apologized and said he did not mean the essay as a threat, he was placed on one-year supervision and later convicted of disorderly conduct. The conviction was upheld on appeal, but the state high court reversed the decision, saying, "There is no evidence that Douglas had threatened Mrs. C in the past or that Mrs. C believed Douglas had a propensity to engage in violence."

"We do not doubt that the story was a result of Douglas' anger at having been removed from class," the court said. "Further, we sympathize with Mrs. C; she was justified in feeling offended. And we firmly believe that the school took appropriate disciplinary action against Douglas.

"However, a 12-year-old boy's [sic] impetuous writings do not necessarily fall from First Amendment protection due to their offensive nature."

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Davis Prosser noted the essay was written "against a disturbing backdrop of school violence" and schools have a clear obligation "to protect students and teachers."

"School officials may not safely assume that any school is immune from danger," he said.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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The court said the essay, which involved beheading a teacher with a machete, was repugnant but not criminal. The case involved a then-13-year-old boy identified only as Douglas D. who had been thrown out of class Oct. 7, 1998, for being disruptive. The teacher had...
Court,Rules,Violent,Essay,Free,Speech
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2001-00-16
Wednesday, 16 May 2001 12:00 AM
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