You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2007.

To what extent can schools control a student’s right to free speech and expression?

Can University students to exercise this right free from any authority?

The above questions are sought the be answered in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case. Below is some Info on the case in CNN 

Justices hear ‘Bong Hits 4 Jesus’ case

WASHINGTON (AP) — A high school senior’s 14-foot banner proclaiming “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” gave the Supreme Court a provocative prop for a lively argument Monday about the extent of schools’ control over student speech.

If the justices conclude Joseph Frederick’s homemade sign was a pro-drug message, they are likely to side with principal Deborah Morse. She suspended Frederick in 2002 when he unfurled the banner across the street from the school in Juneau, Alaska.

“I thought we wanted our schools to teach something, including something besides just basic elements, including the character formation and not to use drugs,” Chief Justice Roberts said Monday. (Watch why “bong hits” are on the court’s plate Video)

But the court could rule for Frederick if it determines that he was, as he has contended, conducting a free-speech experiment using a nonsensical message that contained no pitch for drug use.

“It sounds like just a kid’s provocative statement to me,” Justice David Souter said.

Students in public schools don’t have the same rights as adults, but neither do they leave their constitutional protections at the schoolhouse gate, as the court said in a landmark speech-rights ruling from Vietnam era.

Morse, now a Juneau schools’ administrator, was at the court Monday. Frederick, teaching and studying in China, was not.

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose Kirkland and Ellis law firm is representing Morse for free, argued that the justices should defer to the judgment of the principal. Morse reasonably interpreted the banner as a pro-drug message, despite what Frederick intended, Starr said.

School officials are perfectly within their rights to curtail student speech that advocates drug use, he said. “The message here is, in fact, critical,” Starr said.

Starr, joined by the Bush administration, also asked the court to adopt a broad rule that could essentially give public schools the right to clamp down on any speech with which they disagree. That argument did not appear to have widespread support among the justices.

Douglas Mertz of Juneau, Frederick’s lawyer, struggled to keep the focus away from drugs. “This is a case about free speech. It is not a case about drugs,” Mertz said.

Conservative groups that often are allied with the administration are backing Frederick out of concern that a ruling for Morse would let schools clamp down on religious expression, including speech that might oppose homosexuality or abortion.

The outcome also could stray from the conservative-liberal split that often characterizes controversial cases.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote several opinions in favor of student speech rights while a federal appeals court judge, seemed more concerned by the administration’s broad argument in favor of schools than did his fellow conservatives.

“I find that a very, a very disturbing argument,” Alito told Justice Department lawyer Edwin Kneedler, “because schools have … defined their educational mission so broadly that they can suppress all sorts of political speech and speech expressing fundamental values of the students, under the banner of getting rid of speech that’s inconsistent with educational missions.”

Justice Stephen Breyer, in the court’s liberal wing, said he was troubled a ruling in favor of Frederick, even if he was making a joke, would make it harder to principals to run their schools.

“We’ll suddenly see people testing limits all over the place in the high schools,” Breyer said.

On the other hand, he said, a decision favorable to the schools “may really limit people’s rights on free speech. That’s what I’m struggling with.”

After the arguments, two dozen sign-carrying demonstrators chanted, “Teachers should teach, not limit free speech.”

Scores of students waited outside the court early Monday for a chance to listen to the arguments.

Ninth graders on a class trip from Mosinee, Wisconsin, were in general agreement on the issue. Cari Kemp, 15, said Frederick’s protest was “just a joke” but that “the school took it too far.”

The justices, as they often do, sought to probe the limits of each side’s argument by altering the facts one way or another.

What if, Souter asked, a student held a small sign in a Shakespeare class with the same message Frederick used. “If the kids look around and they say, well, so and so has got his bong sign again,” Souter said, as laughter filled the courtroom. “They then return to Macbeth. Does the teacher have to, does the school have to tolerate that sign in the Shakespeare class?”

Justice Antonin Scalia, ridiculing the notion that schools should have to tolerate speech that seems to support illegal activities, asked about a button that says, “Smoke Pot, It’s Fun.”

Or, he wondered, should the court conclude that only speech in support of violent crime can be censored. “‘Extortion Is Profitable,’ that’s okay?” Scalia asked.

A clear majority seemed to side with Morse on one point, that she shouldn’t have to compensate Frederick. A federal appeals court said Morse would have to pay Frederick because she should have known her actions violated the Constitution.

A decision is expected by July.

Justice Anand Presented the Annual Tarkunde Memorial Lecture on HUMANISM: THE ESSENCE OF CIVIL LIBERTIES.
Below are some of the excerpts from the lecture.

The basic concept of civil liberties is the upholding of the dignity and worth of the individual, which is the essence of human rights. Man is born free and there is constant struggle to break the shackles, when in bondage. This perception led to renaming the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as the First War of Indian Independence. The Civil War of America was a similar response. Civil liberties in South Asia present a mixed picture. It is dismal where democracy is either not real, or is in the nascent stage, even if not absent in form.

The aftermath of 9/11 with the frenzy of war against terrorism has global impact. It is greater where the civil liberties were already not sacrosanct and the institutional protection was weak. Strength of the polity to overcome the impact determines the current state of civil liberties. Democracy is the best form of polity for protection of civil liberties; human rights are at the core of constitutional governance. India has the lead in this venture, thanks to the large number of human rights activists in all spheres, and the country ethos. Tarkunde and his ilk have made a large contribution.

Civil liberties are a potent tool for empowerment of the people through human development. India with its vast human resources has a great potential. It is already emerging as a super power threatening even the lead status of USA, because of the intellectual capital and its vast resource of knowledge makers in this century of knowledge. The linkage between human rights and human development is recognized, as they share a common vision and serve a common purpose. They in turn depend on the quality of governance, that is, democracy. Synthesis of all three concepts in the polity is essential to achieve the aim.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

It is a fallacy to think that there is any conflict between human rights and national security. The coexistence of human dignity and national security in the Preamble to the Constitution of India is sufficient to dispel this impression. It is only in the event of a possible conflict that there has to be priority, and then too the non-derogable rights remain sacrosanct while the other rights become subservient only to the extent necessary in the larger interests.

Even after 9/11, in the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 of 28 September 2001, the States were called upon inter alia to take appropriate measures for combating terrorism in conformity with relevant provisions of national and international law, including standards of human rights. In the same context, Mary Robinson, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights said:

There should be three guiding principles for the world community: the need to eliminate discrimination and build a just and tolerant world; the cooperation by all States against terrorism, without using such cooperation as a pretext to infringe human rights; and a strengthened commitment to the rule of law, and also,

What must never be forgotten is that human rights are no hindrance to the promotion of peace and security. Rather they are essential element of any strategy to defeat terrorism.

The UN General Assembly emphasized in this context, that States must adopt measures in accordance with the UN Charter and the relevant provisions of the international law, including international standards of human rights. Gandhiji had this in mind when he said: Peace does not come out of a clash of arms, but out of justice lived and done.

…………………………………………………………………………………

Humanitarian principles govern also the remedy for human rights violations. According to Prof. Van Boven principles, the only appropriate response to victims of gross violations of human rights is one of reparation, which encompasses access to justice, and reparation for harm suffered. The four main forms of reparation are: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and guarantee of non-repetition. Duty to prosecute perpetrators is included in reparation. Impunity is in conflict with this principle. The NHRC applied this principle in recommending the obligatory State response to the victims of the Gujarat carnage in the year 2002. A lot remains to be done in that behalf.

……………………………………….

The Complete lecture may be viewed at The PUCL site.

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France: ‘Every person shall have the right to die with dignity; this right shall include the right to choose the time of one’s death and to receive medical and pharmaceutical assistance to die painlessly. No physician, nurse or pharmacist shall be held criminally or civilly liable for assisting a person in the free exercise of this right.”

Within the next half century, perhaps much sooner, the right to choose to die with dignity will be as widely recognized as the right to free speech or to exercise one’s religion.

It will cease to be called euthanasia or mercy killing. It will not be viewed as killing, but as a fundamental human right as expressed in the imaginary constitutional amendment above.

In Europe, euthanasia is already sanctioned by law in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In the United States, the state of Oregon has also allowed it.

The decision last week by a French criminal court in Périgeux illustrates how social mores precede changes in the law. The facts of the case are simple: A 65-year-old woman suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer was given potassium chloride by a nurse and died shortly after.

Potassium chloride is a fatal poison. The dose was prescribed by a doctor and administered by a nurse acting on the doctor’s orders. Prior to the fatal dose, the patient suffered from fever, trembling, incontinence, nausea, pain and an intestinal blockage causing vomiting of fecal matter.

The nurse was indicted for assassination and the doctor for assisting. The charges were later changed to poisoning. The two accused risked maximum prison sentences of 30 years.

After four days of trial the nurse was acquitted and the doctor was given a one-year suspended sentence. The court also ordered that the conviction not be registered in national government files, which will enable the doctor to continue to practice. It is not clear who initiated the prosecution. Neither the husband nor the son of the deceased woman pressed charges. In fact, they supported and thanked both doctor and nurse. The prosecution argued that the principle of not killing must be upheld, but the jury did not agree.

The decision shows once again that laws are a lagging indicator of social change.

France revised its law in 2005 and now permits what it terms passive euthanasia, which may mean withholding treatment or giving painkillers in such a massive dose that the patient can slide into an eternal sleep. But it forbids active euthanasia such as the use of potassium chloride.

A generation ago, in 1980, a number of people in France formed an Association for the Right to Die with Dignity (ADMD), which now has over 40,000 members. As medical care improves and people live longer, one can expect to see more such associations around the world, and eventually a change in perspective.

At present, the law focuses on the act of the physician or nurse, and not on the rights of the patient. As that focus shifts so that the right of the patient to die with dignity becomes paramount, one can expect to see the law proclaim a fundamental right.

The fear of abuse by doctors, nurses, or family members wishing to do away with an unruly patient or parent will recede.

Every time we step into an automobile we run the risk of being killed or seriously injured. Yet despite the thousands of auto fatalities every year in every country, the risk is accepted because of the benefits of automobile travel.

The legal philosopher Hans Kelsen defined justice as social happiness. But social happiness is an evolving concept and one that varies from one culture to another.

One need only look at how practices in the workplace — holidays, wages, hours per week, maternity leave for mothers and fathers — vary widely from country to country, and yet are regarded as vested rights in each.

Neither the French nor the American Constitution, nor the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nor the European Convention on Human Rights, includes the right to die with dignity. But then many of the human rights we take for granted today — including non-discrimination and free speech — are far more recent than one might imagine.

One can predict with some confidence that as life expectancy is extended, social mores will evolve and the law will follow.

Ronald Sokol, former lecturer in law at the University of Virginia, practices law in Aix-en-Provence, France. Article Published in the International Herald Tribune

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH : A GLOBAL WARNING feat. Al Gore

directed by : Davis Guggenheim/ 93 min

An Inconvenient Truth is a documentary film about climate change, specifically global warming. Directed by Davis Guggenheim and presented by Al Gore, the film explores data and predictions regarding climate change, interspersed with personal events from the life of Al Gore.

Gore reviews the scientific evidence for global warming, discusses the politics and economics of global warming, and describes the consequences he believes global climate change will produce if the amount of human-generated greenhouse gases is not significantly reduced.

The film includes many segments intended to refute critics who say that global warming is insignificant or unproven. For example, Gore discusses the risk of the collapse of a major ice sheet in Greenland or West Antarctica, either of which could raise global sea levels by approximately 20 feet (6m), flooding coastal areas and producing 100 million refugees. In an effort to explain the global warming phenomenon, the film examines annual temperature and CO 2 levels for the past 600,000 years in Antarctic ice core samples . An analogy to Hurricane Katrina that destroyed almost a million homes in coastal Mississippi, Louisiana , Alabama, and Florida is also used. The film ends with Gore noting that if appropriate action is taken soon (releasing less CO2, growing more plants and trees), the effects of global warming can be successfully reversed.

An Inconvenient Truth is also the title of a companion book authored by Gore, which reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The book contains additional, detailed information, scientific analysis, and Gore’s commentary on the issues presented in the documentary.

The film premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and has several awards to its credit (including Best Documentary Feature, Academy Awards, 2007; Best Documentary Feature, BFCA 2007; Stanley Kramer Award, PGA Golden Laurels Awards 2007 etc). It is the third-highest-grossing documentary in the United States to date. Both Gore and Paramount Classics , the film’s distributor, have pledged proceeds from the film to further educational campaigns about climate change. Gore also calls upon viewers to learn how they can help in this initiative. For more information about the campaign, log on to http://www.climatecrisis.net.

Contact:Anand Patwardhan 9819882244,Lynne Henry 9820896425,Bijon 9833588105
……………………………………….

The movie is specially screened at Prithvi Theatre Mumbai on 26th march as part of the Vikalp Film Festival. (1800 hrs)
The Entry is Free.
For more information, contact Anand Patwardhan – 9819882244, Lynne Henry – 9820896425

One multinational Company, a communist government in the State, 4000 police personnel and 10,000 acres of land; All that is required for a massacre that results in the death of 20 villagers and wounds 70 more. This incident has now turned out to be one of the worst instances of the abuse of state power since Godhra, gujarat.
Nandigram is a small town in West Bengal, India where the Government proposed a Special Economic Zone for a Multinational Company named ‘Salim group’.

State power must never be used to further private interests. Well, that is precisely what has happened in Nandigram. To what extent does the State recognise the ‘right to property’ in India? Off late it has been using the non-existence of this right to inflict pains and increase the troubles of the Rural poor. Not surprisingly, this has been to the extent of causing death in India. ‘Accountability’ doesnt remain to be seen in the usage of State power. (refer to my earlier post on accountability) . How can one have faith in the Government in a democracy when it cannot protect the interests of its people? A left government, meant to protect the poor, has now done something that the communist preacher of Kolkata are ashamed to acknowledge. The Sarkar family has even returned the rabindra awards and done a repeat of what tagore did after the Jallian walla Bagh Massacre.
While this is a topic on which I can write on great length, I shall stop here as I got an exam tomorrow. Readers are requested to see the video below. Also, other readings attached.

– Video on the Nandigram Issue

– Nandigram on Cuckoo’s Call
– Are SEZ’s a good idea? Nitin Desai