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Nov. 28, 2006

PRO/CON: MCPS flyer distribution policy

by Pia Nargundkar, Online Editor-in-Chief and Iliya Smithka, Online Staff Writer
Iliya Smithka says YES: Organizations have the right to free speech within schools.

According to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) website, flyers can be sent home with Blair students when report cards are handed out, on Nov. 10, Feb. 1 and April 11. On Nov. 10, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) distributed an inoffensive and informational flyer about the organization, much to the displeasure of many students and parents. These same students and parents must realize that the flyer policy supports nonprofit organizations' right to free speech and a free market society.

The policy states that "printed informational material…[from] MCPS, any federal, state or local government entities [and] nationally affiliated PTAs operating within MCPS and MCCPTA" may be distributed or displayed at any time during the school year. Nonprofit organizations, such as PFOX, may distribute material directly to the students no more than once each marking period. Like any local organization, PFOX wants students and parents to join and support their organization. Though some people may disagree with the organization's message, it still has the right to promote its message to its potential members.

Though some of the material in PFOX's flyer offended openly gay Delegate Heather Mizeur (D, 20th), she believes that the policy protects "the fundamental right" of free speech. "Whether or not it's considered offensive," Mizeur argues, an organization has the right to free speech. The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from making a law restricting liberties such as free speech and the right to petition. MCPS supports the amendment with this policy, allowing organizations to distribute their message to students and their families via a flyer once a quarter.

Free speech goes both ways. "If, on the other side of the issue, Equality of Maryland can [issue a flyer]," reasons Mizeur, "then so should PFOX." Offensive as PFOX's purpose may be to some, it does not exclude the organization from the American right to free speech. The Ku Klux Klan, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, PFOX and Equality of Maryland could all conceivably send home flyers with Blair students.

At the bottom of PFOX's flyer, a disclaimer reads, "Note: These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school." But MCPS does support PFOX's right to free speech. The first amendment guarantees this freedom, and the Board of Education is merely regulating such speech with this flyer policy. By supporting this policy, MCPS is backing the Constitution. What's so controversial about that?


Pia Nargundkar says NO: Students should not be forced to take home material of questionable content.

Flyers from "nonprofit community organizations" can be distributed directly to students at the beginning of the school year and then once again at the end of the first three marking periods, according to the MCPS website. This distribution is not protected under the First Amendment and should be banned.

All of the flyers must contain the disclaimer, "These materials are neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Board of Education of Montgomery County, the superintendent, or this school." As MCPS does not expressly support the messages spread via these flyers, they should not mandate their distribution. Instead of forcing students to take these flyers home, the information can be kept in the main office or a similar central location for students to pick up should they be so inclined.

Information that is handed out with report cards should strictly relate to school issues only. If the school needs to distribute material on after-school activity buses or upcoming standardized tests, then the end-of-quarter homeroom meetings are the right place to do it. However, information from outside organizations should not be handed out, especially when these organizations have agendas that may clash with students' beliefs.

The recently distributed Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) flyer is a striking example. Many students found PFOX's claim of homosexuals changing their sexual identities to be offensive and untrue. One Blazer notes, "It is extremely easy for unsuspecting people to be lured into thinking that PFOX is an organization that genuinely supports gays." Instead, he believes, the organization "shames gays into hating who they are."

Schools should not perpetuate such controversy. Organizations like PFOX do not present any research to prove their claims. If MCPS does not allow students to read biased, unsupported textbooks then they should not force them to take home biased, unsupported flyers. Proponents of the policy argue that the First Amendment and freedom of speech laws protect the distribution of such flyers. Yet schools are institutions of learning meant to teach students facts not dole out propaganda; historically this has meant schools can have much tighter free speech rules than the government is allowed to enforce.

Some argue that the vast majority of these flyers deal with innocent community activities, such as recruitment for community sports teams, and say that the distribution of such innocuous pamphlets should be allowed. But MCPS cannot allow the circulation of flyers from certain organizations and not from others without seeming to make a political statement. Furthermore, it is ironic that these defenders of free speech would advocate curtailing some organizations but not others – that in and of itself is a more direct violation of free speech. By allowing the distribution of some flyers and not others is discrimination based on beliefs – an act ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio.

Yet the controversy of the free speech issue is easily resolved. Although the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees free speech, it should not be used as a blanket excuse to defend all actions. As long as the flyers are available, the organizations maintain their right to free speech, and students are not forced to bring home material that goes against their beliefs.



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  • lc on November 28, 2006 at 10:56 PM
    "Organizations like PFOX do not present any research to prove their claims."

    The author should take a look at http://www.pfox.org/Medical_Science.asp. The research is there.

    The problem with storing the fliers in the main office is that many people do not know to go there. In order to reach out to the majority of their customers or participants, the advertisements must advertise to Middle America. Advertisements are not mere waste of time. The advertisers have a program or idea they would like to sell to other people.

    If all the fliers are in the main office, the gay students may not realize that PFOX can be an opportunity for them. By getting the fliers out to them, these people can learn of new opportunities that they would have never thought to learn more about.

    Advertisements are everywhere. The only way for advertisements to reach its intended audience is to actually get out there and reach for the students. The military comes along sometimes to interact with the students who may have never considered the military as an option. Limiting the military personnel to only a small booth that students must willingly enter, it defeats the whole purpose of advertising.

    The schools are a fair medium for advertisements. It is a public place where people should be able to learn more about the world around them. If advertisements are banned, then all the colleges would not be able to recruit students. There is no reason for advertisements to be removed other than that some students do not like what is being advertised. No one is forced to take the flier home. Some people just threw theirs away.
  • Libertarian (View Email) on November 28, 2006 at 11:20 PM
    First amendment:
    "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..."

    This is not a government policy and it's not simply speech. Free speech does not include coming into a building and talking. Plenty of businesses can restrict speech within their workplace (such as profanity bans, firing people for saying something to a customer, etc.), that's not a law made by the government. They are not required to allow all organizations to distribute fliers. But as long as they do, they don't have the right to discriminate based on religion or belief. Of course the Constitution doesn't prohibit the school from banning PFOX's flyers, the MCPS policy does. If they want to change it, that's fine. Pretty black and white issue actually.
  • Michael on November 29, 2006 at 1:03 PM
    I am completely against everything PFOX stands for, but I still take issue with the second half of this article.

    Speaking of unsupported claims, let's examine a few of yours:

    1. "This distribution is not protected under the First Amendment" - You say that distribution does not have to happen to satisfy free speech, yet nowhere do you say that distribution explicitly violates it.

    2. "Information that is handed out with report cards should strictly relate to school issues only." - Uh...why? Would you feel better if these flyers had been handed out sometime other than with report cards? If something has to be distributed, report card time is the most efficient and effective time.

    3. "especially when these organizations have agendas that may clash with students' beliefs." - So? PFOX and organizations like it are fully aware that this is the case. It's their decision to distribute the flyer, and if they think it's a good idea, so be it. It's their right.

    4. While I certainly agree with "one Blazer," he is nowhere near an expert witness, and his opinion is insufficient evidence to support your point.

    5. Oh, so schools are supposed to teach students facts? What about that board of education in Kansas that decided to teach its students Intelligent Design?

    While I agree that the First Amendment "should not be used as a blanket excuse to defend all actions," I feel you're being way too severe. It's just a flyer. It may go against students' beliefs, but come on. The majority of this country goes against those very same beliefs. If we can't handle a mere flyer, I fear for our future. And since we're discussing the noble, purified goals of education, let's not forget that schools are supposed to prepare us for the real world - something this flyer does exceptionally well.
  • no on November 29, 2006 at 9:08 PM
    I agree with Pia Nargundkar.
    In the first section, the PFOX flyer was described as inoffensive, yet the writer went on to say that some people were offended by it (I know I was). That does not make sense to me.
  • Liberal on November 30, 2006 at 7:29 AM
    The 1st ammendment was set in to place so that no ones freedom of expression will be suppressed. The mission of organazations like PFOX is to cause fear in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transsexual) community which in it self is preventing from someones freedom of expression. And those fliers insulted and caused fear among many people who are seeking Acceptance.
  • duh! on November 30, 2006 at 7:08 PM
    y is everyone makin such a big deal about this...they are jus tryin to advertise...advertising is done everywhere and sum ppl dunt quite agree with certain things...i mean u dunt have to agree ryte?!...they were tryin to make ppl join their organization...
  • lol on November 30, 2006 at 9:59 PM
    to liberal:

    the flyer "caused fear"? Did you even read the flier? Look at it? Do anything more than "i heard this organization may not agree with me therefore it is a hate group"? first of all, while the stance of PFOX may be offensive to you, anyone who says the flyer itself was offensive and "caused fear" is kidding themselves. It is people such as yourself that are resulting in us being the softest, most coddled generation in human history. We don't all have to agree on everything. A marketplace of ideas is a fast, noisy and occasionally scary place. People's feelings will get hurt. But that is just part of life, and you need to accept it. This is a clear case of free speech. Under the current MCPS policy, which is not at all a problem, the flyer was completely legal. And it certainly did not insult or "cause fear" in anyone. And even if it did, that person needs to grow some thicker skin. If this is all it takes to insult and "cause fear" in them, they are in for a long life.
  • Libertarian (View Email) on December 2, 2006 at 12:45 PM
    To Liberal, your logic is flawed in so many ways. First of all it doesn't really matter what it was put in place FOR, it matters what it does. It protects the freedom of expression. Passing out these fliers in NO way eliminates your freedom of expression (in fact you're practicing that right right here), while not allowing them to distribute it would be restricting their freedom of expression (which is not unconstitutional when done by MCPS and not the federal government, but MCPS would have to make a fair policy, not just exclude fliers because they don't like them).

    First off causing fear does not eliminate freedom of expression, secondly what is to be afraid of? It's a flier, if you don't like what it says, THROW IT AWAY (actually recycle it). Also how can that flier cause fear? It was very positive even if their organization is disgusting, the flier did not have anything that would cause a reasonable person to be afraid or insulted.

    Basically there are 2 sides, should we side with free speech, or the side of making a small group of people (less than the actual percentage of GLBTs, because I would assume most would see it as plain crap and get rid of it) not be insulted. Sorry but I take the Constitutionally given right over the complaints of a very positive letter. Maybe it's just me, but I take infringement on rights very seriously, and just because something offends a few people doesn't mean it should be censured. Same stance on curse words. Don't like it? Turn it off or in the instance of a flier, get rid of it.
  • Liberal on December 3, 2006 at 2:17 PM
    This is huge because it shows that is our school supporting anti-gay groups or will they support being more accepting of people.
  • Anarchist on December 4, 2006 at 6:49 PM
    I sincerely hope Liberal is purposefully making himself out to be an idiot. Otherwise, there's no excuse.
  • this is stupid on December 5, 2006 at 12:16 PM
    this controversy is not about the 1st amendment or homosexuality at all. it is about mcps policy. if mcps wants to allow nonprofit groups to send home fliers than they must allow every group, even those that some students may disagree with. if there is something clearly hateful or offensive then there should be no distribution but nothing in these fliers was at all offensive. mcps can either allow all groups to send home fliers or not let any groups; as long as its all or nothing then its fair
  • capn crunch (View Email) on December 5, 2006 at 8:10 PM
    i'm with iliya here. the subject of the material, as long as it doesn't commit a hate crime. the material distributed doesn't. end of story.

    also i didnt notice anything on the PFOX flyer trying to "shame gays into hating who they are." maybe if you did research on the organization, or visited their website, youd find something, but the only issue is the content of the flyer itself. as long as that is not openly discriminatory against anyone, the flyers should be allowed


  • Roger Curley on December 6, 2006 at 7:05 PM
    1st amendemnt means they must do ALL or NONE. I advocate NONE, because schools have no business distributing advertisments, regardless of contents.
  • duh on December 16, 2006 at 6:12 PM
    to capn crunch: exactly. the fact that the PFOX flyer did NOT mention how discriminatory it was makes the flyer misleading, and misleading flyers will obviously mislead people. that, of course, is bad.
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