Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Constitution Anyone?, Part III.

This is not your parents' 4-H Club.

Members of this club made a film depicting teenagers killing other teenagers with knives. The local 4-H director suspended them pending an investigation to determine whether they posed a risk of violent behavior. The students sued the Regents of the University of California (who administered the club), contending the suspension from the 4-H club violated their free speech rights. (Robbins v. Regents of the University of California, Case No. B169470, March 16, 2005; read the full case here.)

Finding no constitutional violation, the trial court granted the Regents' motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The appellate court observed that the movie indisputably contained violence and raised concerns about the possibility of future violence. The temporary suspension was intended to protect the club members, rather than to discipline the filmmakers. Under these facts, there was no First Amendment violation.

This case demonstrates two general principles of constitutional jurisprudence. First, courts often engage in a balancing of competing interests or principles. Here, the potential danger to the minors in the club was to be balanced against the members' free speech rights. In light of recent events, a brief suspension to investigate potential violence hardly seems unreasonable.

Second, the First Amendment is not absolute; not all speech is "free". There are limits to free speech, such as liability for slander.

This case crystallizes the application of such principles in a reasonable opinion.