A local metro-Atlanta high school student is suing Fulton County for what he alleges is a violation of his First Amendment rights. Reuben Lack was elected last year as student body president of Alpharetta High School, and has since maintained a 3.7 GPA and has been an active participant of his school’s Student Council and Debate team. Recently, however, he has been forcibly removed from his position for what is alleged as an attack on his right to exercise his freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
On January 12 of this year, he introduced a resolution to the student council that the traditional title of “Prom King and Queen” be modified to “Prom Court,” in an effort to ensure that a same-sex couple could be elected to this position should the students so vote. Lack has stated in interviews that this decision was inspired by the negative reactions of other schools in the Southeast that have completely excluded gays and lesbians from Prom celebrations.
Lack’s decision to bring this idea to light visibly upset the school’s student council sponsors, who quickly sought to change the subject of the discussion. Despite his request to follow parliamentary procedure and table these talks for a later date, they were never addressed. In fact, within a few short days, Lack was removed from his office of class president, ostensibly for reasons unrelated to his statements about Prom Court. These reasons include that Lack was “pushing personal projects” and that he was “advocating for policy changes.”
Lack has brought suit in Federal court seeking to enjoin his removal as class president, alleging that the school has violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and expression, and that he should be reinstated to his elected role. He is arguing that his removal was motivated not by the school’s reaction to his actual performance as student body president, but by his exercising his right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
There is extensive case law addressing the rights of students’ expression in schools, as articulated in the landmark Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District. In that case, the court held that “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years.”
Lack’s desire to make his school’s Prom more accessible to same-sex couples caused no substantial disruption to the educational purposes of student government, nor did it hinder the function of Alpharetta High School in general.
This case is developing very quickly, and for more information, please consult the following links: