Earlier this week Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan upheld a NYC Dept of Ed regulation that banned teachers from wearing political pins in support of a candidate in the classroom. He cited the school’s need for an independent environment free of electioneering. But it is a curious decision in that just a few days earlier, his higher-ups at the Supreme Court struck down decades of legal precedent and a major piece of Federal legislation in alleged support of a corporation’s right to free speech.
It will be interesting to see if an appeal is taken to the Second Circuit, the appeals court over seeing Kaplan’s court, based on the Citizens United case. It would seem to me that a teacher has just as much right to freedom of political expression as Exxon or Halliburton. One of the ironies of the case is that one of the teachers who was forced to remove his Obama pin taught the “Participation in Government” Class at Manhattan’s Murray Bergtraum High School.
With the amazingly low voter turnout in this country, you would think we would want to promote political involvement to our children. While the court was concerned that teachers would use the classroom to campaign for their preferred candidate and create a political atmosphere in the class, that type of express conduct could easily be regulated. According to Randi Weingarten, President of the Teachers Union, quoted in Columbia University’s Red Ink newspaper, they had never had a student or parent complain about teachers trying to influence political decisions: “These ‘what if’ scenarios have not happened in two decades,”said Weingarten.
So it seems to me that the union should very well consider challenging this at a higher level if it deems it important enough. In these tough economic times, it may be hard to spend thousands and thousands of dollars fighting over a political pin and the union may just choose to “pick its battles.”
And that brings us back to the importance of the Citizens United case. Very few entities can spend like multinational corporations can and this case already exemplifies the shifting balance in favor of corporate spech that the decision will cause.