Fox News Network on Monday aired a segment about a student who was suspended from school after he held a banner proclaiming "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" at an Olympic torch relay while not on school property. The student is now taking action against the school for infringing upon his First Amendment rights.
Fox posed the question "Free speech or just out of line?" in an interactive poll. Aside from this being a pretty obvious legal question — I don't see how this isn't an example of a school over-reaching its authority in censuring student speech — the poll is obviously flawed: It presents a false choice that doesn't benefit a nuanced exchange of ideas.
Why can't something be free speech and out of line at the same time? I bet the pundits at Fox News never thought of this, but it happens. Frequently. Not everything is pure, unvarnished truth or a vile, despicable lie. There's a lot of stuff in between. And when it comes to freedom of speech, pretty much everything's fair game, which includes a lot of things many people would consider "out of line."
For instance, there's a religious group that attends the funerals of U.S. soldiers and holds signs thanking God for the deaths because the deaths are America's punishment from God for inching toward equal rights for gay people. Out of line? Any reasonable person would think so. Protected by the First Amendment as free speech? You bet. See, both at the same time!
When nuance is defeated in favor of absolutes, discourse becomes a matter of who can shout the loudest. It's a wonderful world with infinite shades of gray, it's just too bad those framing much of today's political debate see the world only in terms of black and white.