Seditious Talk of Peace

Published September 1, 2015

By Paul T. Angel

A critical First Amendment fight that erupted in a school classroom has spilled over into the courtroom in Bloomington, Ind. The outcome could either allow teachers to speak freely or gag them. It began on a January day two months before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

The sixth-grade students at Clear Creek Elementary School were thinking about the impending war while discussing an issue of Time for Kids,  a version of Time  magazine written for children and a regular part of the lesson plan.

One student had read an article about a peace March in Washington and asked teacher Deb Mayer if she would ever participate in a peace march.

Her answer was “yes” as she elaborated on the First Amendment and how it protects speech in all forms, including demonstrations, marches, protests, and flag-waving, as well as the spoken word, Miss Mayer told AFP.

“I expressed no opinion on the war,” she said. But one student told her parents that she had expressed opposition to the impending invasion and she said she was fired.

“For over a year, the school contended my speech was not protected because ‘the war in Iraq is not a matter of public concern’—really, it’s in the public record,” Miss Mayer said. “Now, the school contends that my speech was not protected because the classroom is not a public forum. This is potentially a much more dangerous stance.”

A judge will decide whether she gets a jury trial in federal court on March 6. She is suing for reinstatement and to clear her name. Still, Miss Mayer contends it is not an issue of whether people support the war in Iraq or the Bush administration.

“If the court rules against me, a teacher’s protected speech will be severely limited, if not abolished,” Miss Mayer said. “You, like me, may have thought this issue had already been decided, but apparently