October 27, 2010
Sixth Circuit Holds Teacher Has No First Amendment Right in Assignments
Shelley Evans-Marshall taught English and Creative Writing in high school, to ninth, eleventh and twelfth graders. She assigned Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. She assigned Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and to explore that book’s theme of government censorship, she developed an assignment based on the American Library Association's "banned books."
In its opinion the Sixth Circuit has rejected the teacher's First Amendment challenge. Applying Garcetti v. Ceballos, the court found that the teacher could not "overcome Garcetti": "When government employees speak “pursuant to their official duties,” Garcetti teaches that they are “not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes.”
The court emphasized how Garcetti controls rather than Pickering v. Board of Education:
When Pickering sent a letter to the local newspaper criticizing the school board, he said something that any citizen has a right to say, and he did it on his own time and in his own name, not on the school’s time or in its name. Yet when Evans-Marshall taught 9th grade English, she did something she was hired (and paid) to do, something she could not have done but for the Board’s decision to hire her as a public school teacher.
Opinion at 11. As for any "academic freedom" argument, the panel opined that such a concept is limited to universities and does not extend to high schools. Opinion at 16.
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