Conflicting MySpace Free Speech Rulings Confuse Activists

HERMITAGE, Pa.

Activist groups and spectators alike are confused by the conflicting opinions of two three-judge panels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit regarding online speech. One panel protected a student’s right to speak freely off-campus, and the other punished students for doing so.

In Layshock v. Hermitage School District, the three-judge panel ruled in favor of Justin Layshock; however, in J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the school district’s right to discipline students for their speech was favored, according to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).

Layshock v. Hermitage School District involved Justin Layshock, who was a student at Hermitage, Pa.-based Hickory High School. He created a phony MySpace page for Principal Eric Trosch, which said Trosch used drugs.

The ACLU also represented another student in J.S. vs. Blue Mountain School District. J.S. is a female middle school student, who, like Layshock, used an off-campus computer to create a fake MySpace page for middle school Principal James McGonigle. The page alleged McGonigle of inappropriate behavior.

Both cases included vulgar language, although, it is said that in the J.S. case, the language was more crude and offensive.

An ACLU official stated that a decision to appeal the J.S. case to the full court would be made within 14 days of the ruling.

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