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Indiana Court: Cussing Out Your Principal On MySpace Is Protected Speech

April 10, 2007

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that a Putnam Circuit judge violated a juvenile's free-speech rights when he placed her on probation for posting an cussword-filed entry on MySpace criticizing a school principal.

The three-judge panel on Monday ordered the Putnam Circuit Court to reverse its penalty against the girl, referred to only as A.B. in court records.

"While we have little regard for A.B.'s use of vulgar epithets, we conclude that her overall message constitutes political speech," Judge Patricia Riley wrote in the 10-page opinion.

In February 2006, Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn Gobert stumbled upon a Web page on MySpace purportedly created by him. A.B., who did not create the page, made derogatory postings on it concerning the school's policy on body piercings.

The state filed a delinquency petition in March alleging that A.B.'s acts would have been harassment, identity deception and identity theft if committed by an adult. The juvenile court dropped most of the charges but in June found student A.B. to be a "delinquent child "and placed her on nine months of probation. The judge ruled the comments were obscene.

A.B. appealed, arguing that her comments were protected political speech under both the state and federal constitutions because they dealt with school policy.

In overturning the decision, the Court of Appeals found that the comments were protected under the First Amendment.




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