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Private school students' gay-bashing not free speech, court rules

Students at an elite L.A. private school who posted death threats and antigay messages on the Internet site of a 15-year-old classmate can't claim the constitutional protection of free speech, a California appeals court has ruled.

The parents of the boy targeted by the threatening and derogatory posts on his website withdrew him from Harvard-Westlake School and moved to Northern California to protect him from classmates who had incorrectly labeled him as gay and pronounced him "wanted dead or alive," the boy's father said in a lawsuit brought against six students and their parents.

The defendants had attempted to deflect the charges by seeking a judgment from Los Angeles County Superior Court that the comments were 1st Amendment-protected speech on an issue of public interest, a motion denied by the lower court and upheld by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in a 2-1 decision Monday.

The Los Angeles Police Department detective who initially investigated the hostile website postings against the student, identified only as D.C., had declined to pursue charges against the other students, saying their "annoying and immature Internet communications did not meet the criteria for criminal prosecution."

The Los Angeles County district attorney likewise declined to prosecute.

The appeals court decision separating cyber-bullying from free speech will allow the boy and his parents to move forward with their suit against the students for alleged hate crimes.

--Carol J. Williams

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Comments () | Archives (57)

Good for them. Hope they get their day in court.

Go get them haha, love to see a follow up to this story in the future.

This incident reflects the need for education in public and private schools about the history and culture of LGBTQ youth, including students of color. Postings that say "wanted dead or alive" should never be tolerated and should result in criminal charges against those involved.
As more and more youth are coming out earlier they should be able to feel as safe and supported as any other student. The family uprooting and move to northern California only reflects the danger the entire family felt. It also reflects the need for school districts, teachers, and parents to engage in creating curriculum that reflects the history and culture of LGBTQ students.

I don't know why the Times insists on heading the article with the title "gay-bashing not free speech" when the larger issue is death threats. I can't envision it ever being right to threaten someone's life, whether they are gay or straight.

Irresponsible parents and really stupid pupils make Harvard-Westlake school a school to avoid at all costs.

This incident is another example of the lack of education about LGTBY history and culture. This is especially true of students of color. Educators, parents and students should create curriculum that reflects the rich and diverse history of the LGTBY community. The only way to fight this kind of entrenched ignorance and prejudice is in the classroom and at home.

The California Appeals Court did the right thing in not recognizing hateful speech as free speech. To have death threats posted on your site is terrifying and should be prosecuted as a crime. This kind of cruel speech violates the rights of LGTBY students and should not be tolerated. As students are coming out earlier and earlier they should be able to enjoy the safety and acceptance that other students take for granted.

Bullying of the highest order. Assault is assault. Even without the battery it's a crime. No free speech there. Nothing to see but some wealthy parents willing to protect their out-of-control, entitled little creeps. Can't wait to see those kids in say ten years. Even the parents will be offended by their behavior but will remain clueless as to how it started and grew. Amazing, rather than try to make the lesson and take the responsibility, they try to hide behind the Constitution. What about the other kid's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Is somehow your kid's rights more important? I hope you are VERY proud. I hope they slap you with a very large lawsuit, and win very big.

It shouldn't matter who they are targetting. Threats should NEVER be considered a form of free speech! The parents of these ignorant clogs should be brought up on negligence charges because their trying to get their children's anti-social behavor accepted as normal. WRONG!

"Irresponsible parents and really stupid pupils make Harvard-Westlake school a school to avoid at all costs."

Well worth repeating TomTallis' post.

This is great! I hope the evil kids learn a good lesson from this.

Kiljoy616, Tom Tallis...

While I agree that no one should be subject to this type of bullying... I disagree with curriculum directed at teaching children the history of Gays and Lesbians. The schools have enough time funding programs and education on the basics!!! Yeah lets cut US History & World History to teach on the subject of Gays & Lesbians in society.... What is there to teach on a subject of that nature?? How about PARENTS just teaching tolerance!!! Atleast thats not gonna cost taxpayers!!!

"The defendants had attempted to deflect the charges by seeking . . ." The students did this, or their parents did? The parents actually tried to say that their children making death threats was Constitutionally-protected free speech? Great role models! Really teaching their kids about responsibility.

Do the parents even see the red flags waving in their faces? Probably not...chances are the haters learned it from their parents.

Death threats against gays or anyone else are clearly beyond the pale, but one has to wonder if statements by students merely expressing their beliefs that homosexuality or gay marriage is wrong is also considered as "gay-bashing" or "hate speech". Expressing one's own opinion that a certain lifestyle or behavior is wrong is CLEARLY protected by the principles of free speech.

Slurs should be protected as free speech. Death threats should not.

Hopefully it doesn't make it's way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those right-wingers believe in discrimination, unless of course a corporation is involved.

This is NOT a gay issue and no, we don't need any more education on LGBwhatever baloney...we've had it up to here with that nonsense. This is about basic civil rights for ALL people. All people deserve to live free from death threats and harassment...not only gay people.

The headline is deceiving. This has nothing to do with free speech, but with a death threat. If the students had kept their posts limited to their anti-gay lifestyle views, then fine. The same would be true of a gay student disparaging heterosexuality. It's when it crosses over to threats of violence that it is not protected speech.

I am glad the court saw it the right way. Those students knew their actions were wrong, and did care. Now their parents I hope will have to pay for them being stupid.

This has absolutely NOTHING to do with "gay-bashing." The article says they "incorrectly accused" the boy of being gay. This article should be more about bullying and less about bringing up gay issues. There are plenty of other opportunities to do that...

Bullying is an epidemic in the US. It's no wonder that suicide is the #3 killer of teens in the US when we let brats like these get away with saying and doing whatever they want. Wish LA had had the guts to prosecute!

death threat is not free speech but to voice opposition to gays or their ilk is my right! there is no way you will ever convince me that therr behavior is normal for the human species

Awesome, make them pay.

There is no need for education about a sexual preference or life choice such as the commenter’s on this site are harping about. The bottom line is that threats against the student’s life are not free speech no matter who the student is or what he is. People these days are unfortunately educated to be victims. Use some common sense and stop this special treatment garbage and treat EVERYONE equally.

The whole notion of "hate crimes" is an effort to "protect" certain groups of people and categories of speech. To label speech "hate" is a specious argument. The speech or action should be labeled for what it is, NOT the perceived and subjective assumption of motivation. A death threat is illegal, no matter who says it or why they say it. It is what it is, and should be prosecuted as such. The notion that an "offended" party can discern someone's "motivation", ie "hatred" is irrelevant and obviously prone to personal interpretation. The law should deal with "actions" not "attitudes". Once prosecution for attitude is given legal credence, the gateway to abuse is assured. The intention of "hate" legislation is to create two classes of people: those who are protected, and those who are not. It is meant to protect certain thoughts and words, and to control and suppress others. The double standards inherent in such "hate" legislation is a slippery slope.

Threats of harm and death are not protected free speech, they are a criminal act. In fact, any action designed to alarm and disturb another can cross the line into some form of illegal behavior.

Probably from the same mentality as those who think they have a right to protest when it's actually a right to peaceful assembly.

Today's generation of parents fosters this kind of stupidity in kids by turning our schools into little more than day care centers. Think about when these kids start having kids if you want to think about the a mess we'll be dealing with.

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