Indiana

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Federal Judge Rules Students' Racy Facebook Photos Are Protected By First Amendment

Two lessons learned in a Fort Wayne federal court Thursday: Kids shouldn’t post pictures to Facebook they wouldn’t show their grandmothers, but schools might think twice about punishing students for posting them.

Federal Judge Philip Simon ruled the Churubusco High School administration was wrong to suspend two sophomore girls from the volleyball team for posting racy pictures of themselves to Facebook.

“Not much good takes place at slumber parties for high school kids, and this case proves the point,” Simon lamented in his decision Thursday, saying the pictures of the girls with penis-shaped lollipops (yes, penis-shaped lollipops) were “juvenile and silly.”

But Simon ruled the First Amendment does protect the photos, and the school’s policy prohibiting that kind of behavior was unconstitutional.

But is it possible the case over something as relatively minor as a six-game suspension from the volleyball season could have a broader impact. As the Student Press Law Center writes:

The judge found [the school's code of conduct used to punish the students] was unconstitutionally vague and overboard. He wrote that a rule against bringing “discredit or dishonor” on the school could include things like speaking out on “taboo” topics or marching in support of political causes, and that the language is too subjective.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center, said the case is also significant because Simon found that being temporarily removed from an extracurricular activity is enough of a punishment to violate the First Amendment.

“This is the first time in a while that a court has recognized that you don’t measure a constitutional violation by what’s taken away from you – you measure it by why it’s taken away,” Goldstein said.

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