A Reminder That Our Only Freedoms Are the Ones We Fight For

I doubt that anyone would seriously debate that we have lost significant freedoms in this country over the last decade, though it is generally presented with a caveat that what has changed was needed for enhanced security. Sometimes this is true, other times it is for the appearance of greater security, and other times it is simply an authoritarian power grab.

Which is why this story is so awesome! Last week I heard about the high school girl had gone to a ‘Youth in Government’ program event and had tweeted:

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

Although she actually didn’t speak out at the event, the office of Governor Brownback found her tweet and immediately contacted her school. From there she was called into the office of her principal and scolded and told to write a letter of apology to the governor … or she would deal with getting the incident marked as a serious issue on her permanent record!

Emma Sullivan was in the midst of applying to colleges and was therefore prepared to write the letter of apology simply to avoid the mark on her transcript – not because she thought she did anything wrong or owed the Governor an apology. But when Sullivan brought the issue to her family, her older sister said that this was a violation of her First Amendment rights and contacted the press.

This caused a ground-swell of public outcry – and for good reason! These are basic constitutional rights of free speech at play. If there was an in-school behavior that was spoken aloud, there are separate rules for that. But this was a statement on a public forum based on a public event that she just happened to be attending with her school. Instead you had a Governor intervening in the life of a student, and a school administrator telling the citizens of the town that it was none of their business. For you and I – and the millions of other people who don’t live in their town or even state – that would be correct, but the citizens of the town certainly DO have a vested interest in the activities of someone whose salary they are paying!

The good news about the coverage is that rather than being forced to apologize for having an opinion contrary to one of a person in power, it was the Governor who ended up apologizing!

Here is a summary from Good.is:

When 18-year-old Emma Sullivan—a high school student from Prairie Village, Kansas—tweeted last week that that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback “sucked,” she thought her words to her 60 Twitter followers would go mostly unnoticed. But then she got called to the principal’s office.

Doing a routine search of the governor’s name on social-networking sites, Brownback’s communications director, Sherienne Jones-Sontag, found Sullivan’s tweets and reached out to her school to demand an apology. Sullivan’s principal acquiesced, and ordered Sullivan to draft an apology to send to the governor.

Initially Sullivan agreed, saying, “I didn’t want to deal with it because I’m in the process of applying to school and am trying to keep my reputation good.” But after a chat with her sister, a political science major at Wichita State University, Sullivan decided to tell her principal and Brownback that the deal was off. “I wasn’t sorry for what I said because I meant it,” she told Yahoo! News, saying that she disagrees with the Republican governor’s views on gay rights and abortion.

Today, after digging in her heels against the most powerful man in her state for a week, Sullivan is getting an apology of her own. Brownback himself has backed down and says it’s his staff, not Sullivan, who was in the wrong. “My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize,” Brownback said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.”

Fact: All the best civics lessons are learned outside the classroom.

Of course we all know the reality – he was sorry he was CAUGHT. The High School principal is in the midst of the drama, and while Sullivan is defending him saying:

I just got off the phone w/ dr. k, he knows this was never aimed at him & this is out of control. Lets move on.

I hope the principal also learned a lesson about encouraging students – particularly ones of voting age – to use their rights of expression rather than squashing them with draconian threats whenever their thoughts go against those in power.

It is a lesson we see again and again in the past decade – our freedoms are being constantly eroded, and only when someone has the courage to fight and get enough public outcry does the power-grab stop.

Categories: Rants and Raves

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6 replies

  1. To quote Evelyn Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  I’m really curious why the office of Brownback would bother with such a trifling thing, the crude hashtag notwithstanding.

    Though, I’m curious about the source:  was her original tweet a prevarication in that she never actually did any of what she originally said she did, e.g., she did not speak to or insult the governor in person, correct?  So while I wholeheartedly agree she has a right to say whatever she likes, it does her no credit if Ms. Sullivan’s tweet was essentially unfounded bragging. A perceptive admissions department might take a dim view of such publicized antics.

    • Bryan, I thought the same thing! She was bragging about talking smack to the gov, which she never did, so while she has the first amendment right to say what’s on her mind (which I wholeheartedly defend, even when it’s not what anyone wants to hear), the fact that she lied about what she said to make herself seem more provocative and outspoken(?) … not so cool. =P

  2. Remember this is still a high school kid – who has all of 60 twitter followers, so they would likely be her *real* friends.  She was probably saying crap  to her friends in her ‘Youth in Government’ program, and perhaps when he got applause for something or other she said ‘you suck’ which was covered by the other noise.  Who hasn’t done silly stuff like that in high school?  

    Does that mean she *LIED*?  No – perhaps she exaggerated the encounter, or just said it in a way that fit in 140 characters … but I think you guys took it a bit far in terms of interpretation.  

    And ultimately that is beside the point – she used his name in a tweet and had an authoritarian system come crashing in on her like something out of Orwell … and only through this publicity were her rights protected.  Not by the public servant running the school – he had no issue ordering her on threat of her future to give up her rights … and certainly not the governor.

    Remember who the victim is here.

    • Mike, I’m not losing sight of the big picture, and I *know* how kids that age are — it’s all about the smack talking. The way that things crashed down on her is the real issue, including the fact that the state was paying for people to monitor social networking sites. Craziness! 

      But as a mom, I can still ‘tsk tsk’ when a kid is caught talking smack. Not that I ever did that … 😉