ACLU of Southern California Demands That School Allow Student to Distribute Flyers Opposed to Military Recruiters

October 28, 2005 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES – Acting on behalf of a South Bay high school student and his parents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today sent a letter to the Manhattan Beach Unified School District demanding that school officials allow the student to distribute counter-military recruiting flyers without fear of punishment.

Sixteen-year-old Joshua Goldman, a junior at Mira Costa High School, was told in early October by a vice principal that he could not pass out flyers titled “Questions the Army Doesn’t Want You to Ask” without prior approval. Goldman had previously passed out leaflets and hung six posters on public and school property. Goldman would like to distribute the same leaflets next week when the military returns to the school for its monthly recruiting event.

“California public school students enjoy broad free speech rights, including protection for distribution of printed materials,” said ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Ranjana Natarajan in her letter to Manhattan Beach Superintendent Gwen Gross. “Mr. Goldman’s flyer, which conveys a pro-peace message and seeks to educate readers about enlisting in the military, is not obscene, libelous, or at all likely to incite readers to disrupt school activities.”

Goldman and his mother Elaine contacted the ACLU after a meeting with the vice principal in which Goldman was told he would face punishment for distributing his flyers to classmates if he did not obtain prior approval.

“I thought passing out flyers would be a good way to let parents and students know the recruiters are on campus and get people to talk about it,” Goldman said. “I was really surprised when the vice principal told me I had to get his permission to pass the leaflets out, especially since other students put up signs or hand things out all the time.”

“Josh and I talked about the flyers and his plans to pass them out at school before he did it,” Elaine Goldman said. “I was very proud that he researched the other side and wanted to encourage people to think critically about what the recruiters might be saying. The school should be a place for thoughtful, well-rounded discussion. I was shocked the school would try to stifle a student.”

The ACLU said that a policy of requiring prior approval would violate Goldman’s free speech rights. The letter asks the school district to ensure that school policy does not infringe on those rights and seeks assurances that Goldman will not be punished for distributing his pro-peace leaflets on campus.

Goldman, who feeds the homeless every weekend with Food Not Bombs in Venice, hopes to study music or political science after graduating high school. He said military recruiters visit the high school about once a month and that a small percentage of his classmates serve in the military after high school.

The ACLU’s letter to the school is online at www.aclu-sc.org/attach/l/Letter_ManhattanBeach_MilitaryRecruiters.pdf

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