Court refusal could lead to censorship

The Supreme Court has thrown out a suit by a student who was refused the right to play "Ave Maria" at her high school graduation. Justices have said it was reasonable for administrators to ban the song since it is overtly religious and since previous performances had been challenged by parents.

  • Read the article from the Seattle Times here.
  • This Wikipedia entry gives you a bit of background on the lyrics of the song and its various arrangments.
  • As expected, the Student Press Law Center weighed in on the Court's refusal to hear the case.

Your assignment: Read the various articles above and leave a comment here. Do you think this case could have lasting implications for student speech? Does this case, in any way, compare to the graduation controversy here at HHS last year? If so, how? Please be sure to leave your first name (and last initial if you share the same first name with someone else in class).

This assignment is due today by the end of 5th period (either lunch or class).

55 comments:

Melissa said...

I think it is crazy that the students were not able to play a song especially when there were no lyrics. This in some ways does relate to the controversy between students and administration at HHS last year because once again the voices and opinions of students were shut out and ignored. student voice has always and will always be a major conflict in schools.

Savanna said...

The school district is being absurd. The students wanted to play an instrumental version of this song and was even willing to keep the title off of it. So what is the real problem of playing this song. Since we are just "stupid teenagers" it is not important for our arguements to go to sumpreme court because we are not wrht the time. The truth is school administration and society keeps students down, they do not hear what we say, or take our opinion into account because we are "unresonable". When are we going to start having a say in how we want our school to be organized?

Tracy said...

It is likely that this case will be made into an example of restrictions on student speech in the future, perhaps even on the home front. Last year, when Ms. Williams tried to take over graduation and set things up her way, refusing to give the students what they wanted. I don't remember if it was over a specific piece that was to be performed or restricting speech itself, but it was about who would be speaking. Either way, there was conflict, which is likely to be unavoidable unless changes are made to strictly enforce student rights.

ChristianArn said...

According to the Supreme Court, students "cannot promote religion but that students have a right to express their own religious beliefs." Yet, how can a student express their religious beliefs without promoting that religion? It is nearly impossible for individuals to censor their own religion. So it is impractical for someone else to censor other religions.

Chloe said...

Under different circumstances, it could be reasonable for administration to be concerned about offering religious performances, particularly when they are unable to perform other songs to balance it out, and particularly when to such a large and diverse audience. However, in this case, the proposed version of "Ave Maria", a) is not a familiar arrangement and b)does not even have lyrics. Thus, it hardly stood as something to worry over.

In a general sense, this does relate to last year's graduation controversy in that in both cases, the school administration did not seem open to student ideas and ultimately shut them down, essentially limiting student speech. Situations like these are likely to have lasting implications for student speech. In time, schools will think little of rejecting student ideas (with the defense that other schools do so as well).

CHLOE, A period.

Terilyn said...

I think since this was rejected by the SUPREME COURT, we'll have to work a lot harder to overcome the issue of student voice. In addition, this entire issue makes America look utterly stupid since we're supposed to stand for freedom and whatnot. The fact that there was a graduation issue at HHS last year just shows that this censorship is happening everywhere, and that its rampant and out of control! We better start now to change this.

Samson Tong said...

The administration is taking advantage of their authority and making a class of student's graduation somewhat miserable by preventing them from having their voted song used for their graduation. The students are taking in to account that the song is not exactly the best choice with it's originally lyrics but the students tried to compromise by only using an instrumental version. It seems the Supreme Courts only argument to this case is that teenagers do not know enough, and are immature. The Supreme Court should judge based on equality.

Edison said...

The school shouldn't have restricted and stopped the students from playing a song, therefore violating their free speech rights, especially after their ensemble spent so much time and effort practicing and preparing to perform it. Just because the song might have been strongly religious the school banned the song. This will have put a lot of pressure and stress onto students' freedom of speech, more than it already has. Similarily, like last year's HHS graduation and how the administration took control of the graduation without listening to any of the students.

Carla said...

As the student's legal representation declared after Monday’s ruling: “Free speech in the public schools is on life support. With this decision, the Supreme Court may have pulled the plug. It’s a sad day for freedom in America.” Indeed it is a sad day, especially with the court's rejection of a major issue. It is sort of ridiculous that their school did not agree to have the song played. As I recall, the students wanted to play an instrumental version of this song, so lyrics that could most likely "offend" people attending th event would not have offended them. I don't see the problem. It's just like an echo of last year's problem at graduation. It's saddening that schools consistently refuse to hear student voices. It truly is.

colby said...

The entire point of a school stopping a song from being played is just plain stupid. I would understand if the song was vulgar but there really isn't much of a point if it's religious. Besides, even the students have first amendment rights and that shouldn't be taken away from them.

Chris Mendoza said...

If this case was thrown out by the supreme court, then there must be some viable reason, however i beg to differ. In musical terms, Ave Maria is just a beautiful, calming song, and its historical background is not always apparent, except for the title. However, the title was offered not to be mentioned, and there were no lyrics to promoter a religion. Thus, i don't think this song should have been banned. Students can express their views other ways, so i don't think this banning will signal some end to student rights and speech.

Kimmy said...

Yes, I do think this case could have lasting implications for student speech. :)
This does in some way compare to the graduation controversy at HHS last year because they both cause a restriction in the students' beliefs, although the HHS controversy did not go as far as the 'Ave Maria' case. Kathryn Nurre just wanted to play this song because of the sweet tune that it hard. There was no reason to ban the song because it was religious, when the lyrics itself will not be played; therefore showing no religious portrayal.

KIMMY NY. A PERIOD. :D

simaran said...

Compared to other countries, America has always been proud of to say that this is one country that believes in free speech. However, this case is proof that American officials go back on their own words. The school district had no valid reason to deny the students their wish to play a song that they considered "religious". Students were even willing to leave out the lyrics, so it is not really considered a "religious" song. Likewise last year, this same situation occured, where students were denied their right to free speech. This has often happened in the past, and evidently, it will continue to happen in the future.

Leah said...

Student's wanting to play Ave Maria at their graduation should not be such a big issue with the school. It is a religious song, and it is understandable why the administration would be concerned. The song was going to be an instrumental version which would have eliminated religious themes in the song. The students even offered to not have the title listed in the program, so none of the attendees would know that it is a religious song. The supreme court's refusal to hear the case makes it seem unimportant.

Dchia23 said...

This school district is definitely being ridiculous. This situation resembles what happened at the beginning of the year with Mr.Zak and the leadership students. He definitely "listened" to what the students had to say, but already had his mind set. This relates to this story, seeing as how the district already had their mind set on what kind of graduation they wanted their students to have. Both of the school districts hear what all students are saying, but fail to listen which is causing a huge controversy.

Banpreet said...

I think it is absolutely ridiculous. It's regarding the students so they should have some say in how they want there song to be like or rather even have a song. School officials are continuously trying to keep students and there voices down. This is common at many high schools, including HHS. When it comes to rallies and student run functions the administration always interferes and tries to take control. This is not how schools were set up to be.

Yueming Wang said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacy Chan said...

Though I do understand the school's perspective, I believe the student should have played "Ave Maria" at her graduation ceremony. Regardless if a person deems the song as religious or not, at the end of the day, it is vital for the rest of the school community to honor and to respect the choice of song that the student has selected. Besides, high school graduation is a milestone, and it is only fitting that the attention should be on the graduating class exclusively.

Aundrea_Giacomelli said...

I think school districts are being crazy. It is a song with no lyrics, they are not trying to promote a religious meaning, they just want to play the melody. People just like to make what they call a "statement," when in reality they know this 'Ave Maria' is not offending them. Every song has a background.

Yueming Wang said...

If the students at Henry M. Jackson High were only performing an arranged instrumental version of the song and were also willing to leave out the title, how could the "Ave Maria" song be dubbed as overtly religious. It's almost like saying that students are becoming Commies if they learn about Communism in a history class. What exactly are students allowed to do or say? This case does contribute to an overall implication that freedom of speech for students isn't particularly free -- a problem that has always been present. The issue cannot be resolved until "freedom" becomes free and not conditional.

sarina said...

I find it very unfair that the students are unable to play a certain song just because of the title of a song. The lyrics of Ave Maria have nothing to do with the title. The administrators should take a second look at the situation and understand the students perspective.The students voices should be heard.

Myron said...

The idea about "separation of church from state" has different interpretations by various people. However, when it becomes involved another right, such as freedom of expression, the latter is much more important. In this particular case, Kathryn Nurre was clearly not trying to promote her religion. In fact, looking at the piece plainly, there is nothing religious about the piece except the title since it is a relatively obscure instrumental version of "Ave Maria." Inhibiting freedom of expression, including the freedom of expression of a religion, is wrong for already helpless students.

Wendy said...
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Wai Hin said...

As a student, I think school district should respect the students. But in this case, the school district did not allow the Wind Ensemble to perform only because it is an instrument version! I think the school district did not respect the students as well as the art. Everyone has the right to do things he/ she wants unless those things are illegal and performing 'Ave Maria' in graduation is absolute not an illegal things. So the school district should not refuse them to perform.

Karwin said...

"Justices have said it was reasonable for administrators to ban the song since it is overtly religious and since previous performances had been challenged by parents."

If "Ave Maria" is a religious song to sing then what about Pledge of Allegiance? Regardless of the religious words that the Pledge of Allegiance contains, many people say it everyday all over the world. Why is it acceptable to say the Pledge of Allegiance but unacceptable to sing "Ave Maria"? I believe the school district is becoming more and more prejudiced and student voices are being ignored more than ever.


This event is comparably similar to the HHS fiasco from last year. Many students who voiced their concerns to the administration was pushed aside without a second thought. The administration refused to hear the truth and tried to shut the students down by ignoring them. Is our opinion really unreasonable or does the administration just not want to accept the truth?

Sabrina said...

People are going overboard with religion. The song does not even have any words! It it the same line over and over "Ave Maria" and mainly an instrumental. This school board was making a scene out of nothing. It makes me afraid of what else this country will deny me of. So much for freedom of speech and religion.

Wendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy said...

The school's rejection of students singing religious songs show how they are, in fact, being controlled by the school. In the article, it mentioned that students "cannot promote religion but that students have a right to express their own religious beliefs." I personally think that singing a song, while leaving the title "Ave Maria" out of the program, is not a kind of promotion. School district is just afraid of complaints from parents so they reject to listen to students' opinion, as students' thoughts are less powerful and persuasive. Similar incident also happened in HHS last year's graduation, where school administrator planed the program, neglecting students' wants.

Andrew said...

The entire thing is absurd/ridiculous. I agree that students should not be PROMOTING their whatever their religious beliefs are, but everyone is allowed to believe in whatever they want to believe in, therefore, they can EXPRESS it in whatever fashion they please. Playing a song, especially without lyrics, should be allowed at the graduation. If it had a nice melody and does not promote religion at all, then no problem should be had, right? This is an example of the students being treated like little kids, and one may even argue this shows ageism.

ANDREW A

Kimberly said...

I think this was unnecessary. The music that the students wanted to perform did not even contain lyrics. I don't understand why the school district refused to let them play. I agree with Savanna when she says that school administration can keep students down. They underestimate our potential.

alec said...

One should understand this case, like many others similar, could have lasting effects for student speech. The United States' Declaration Of Independence states that freedom of speech cannot be tolerated. Therefore, this girl was simply doing so and I beleive this violates the grounds of freedom in America. Because of this, her school district at the time is making a big deal out of nothing. The high school girl at the time was doing what millions have done before her in spite of freedom of speech. This incident only adds ruins to the very meaning of freedom of speech. People, even high school students, regardless, should have the right to perform their actions based on freedom of speech.

lexxa said...

Honestly, I think freedom of speech will always be looked down upon, especially in schools. As stupid as it sounds that the student weren't able to play an instrumental of the song, it shouldn't be a big deal, religious or not.

The Supreme Court didn't take in the case, and that could have been because they didn't want to deal with it. Taking it on 4 years later, though ? If student really want their voices to be heard, they need to think of a plan that everyone will listen to, and have a lot of things to back it up. This case right here is an example of how people of the District and the country won't listen.

Beilul Naizghi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beilul Naizghi said...

This is more of an issue regarding the gray areas in separation of religion and state, rather than primarily about student free speech. The law states that religion and public schools are separate. I don't feel it was a personal issue against the students, but rather the district was trying to save itself from a potential law suit. The article did mention that they have had issues with secular music at graduations in the past.

I sympathize with the students and believe they were well within their right to play the song because they were not promoting their religion. And to be honest, if there it were instrumental, and remotely unrecognizable to the audience due to the omitted lyrics, is it really THAT big a deal for the district to let them play it? The district may have overreacted especially because the students offered not to put the name of the song, but they were (technically) within their legal right.

This is however, a gray area, the Supreme Courts refusal to preside over this lawsuit could encourage manipulative school districts to take advantage of this and thus lead to even more stories like this one.

FLORAINE KYLA said...

Before one can form an opinion whether or not something should be allowed, one has to consider what is the goal/purpose of doing something and how will it affect others. Honestly, if playing a different arrangement of "Ave Marie" and proposing to leave the title off the program at a graduation clearly rules out that the student wanted to play the song for religious purposes. The song is really beautiful, and one has to remember who's graduation it is. If no one is being insulted or hurt by this, why ban it? It is so frustrating on how close minded some administrations can be. I understand "Ave Maria" has religious associations and such, but if those aspects aren't being brought out or focused on then it is not a religious song. Hypothetically, as students we can think, speak, and express ourselves, but with those skills also comes the ability to curse, form horrible plans, and basically do "bad", does that mean the administration/whoever has a higher power over us will ban talking/thinking/expressing our minds? There are always two sides, one just has to be aware of both, and make a righteous judgement. And if his/her judgement is wrong, well then be prepared for the consequences.

FLORAINE, A period

nicholas said...

I understand why they would not allow them to play the sing. Not everybody is Catholic, but at the same time, its just a song, and it would just be an instrumental. Last year at our graduation one of the seniors sang "Never Would Have Made It." This is indeed a gospel song by Marvin Sapp. Students everywhere should feel the freedom to be able to do something that they want for their graduation.

Crystal said...

It is understandable as to why Ave Maria was not allowed at the graduation. Despite taking off the title and playing an instrumental version this is a well known song that can imply some kind of religion. Yes this disrupts the freedom of speech but its understandable as to why the district banned it and why the supreme court left it the way they did. Despite having no words and not title, just from the music, audiences will be able to recognize it and some might even feel offended. Yes we also have freedom as to which religion we choose to practice, but to play this during a high school graduation at public event might imply that the school is choosing this song over other religious songs. I think the biggest problem is that the district doesn't want to offend any one, and there's nothing wrong with trying to create a more balanced atmosphere.

Jordan said...

Student voice and student opinions are always and issue when in comes to high school. Although we are teenage students, we know what we're talking about when it comes to what goes on around the school because we are the ones actually experiencing it. Administrators try to take matters into their own hands and ignore what students try to say, which only makes things worse. Freedom of speech for students is and always be an issue

marc said...

The school was being unreasonable about the request. and why didnt supreme court take the case? We all know deep down inside that this will always happen, no matter how much they enforce student rights. There will always be someone in the higher ups that have a different taste than ours but the school was being stubborn and unreasonable just because they expect the song to attract unwanted comments and they didn't want to deal with it.

athena said...

This case will definitely leave its mark on student speech, especially in music programs. If students aren't allowed to express their religion (which wasn't even the case)through music, then in which forms can they? Here at Hercules High, students have to give in to the whims of the administration. Last year the vote on the "Speaker at Large" at least they were able to challenge the administration rather than going to court.

Courtney Mariano said...

Although I do understand the school administration's concerns, I do not believe the district had the right to refuse to let the students of Henry M. Jackson High School to play the instrumental version of "Ave Maria" during graduation. I think the situation would be different if the lyrics were involved, but this is not the case. This could definitely have lasting implications for student speech since the district is unwilling to consider the students' wishes. The story definitely compares to the graduation controversy here at HHS last year since in both cases, the administration did not even consider what the graduating students wanted. We should be given a say in how we want school events organized, especially graduation.

Teresa-Mae said...

I think this is a problem between authoritative figures and their inferiors: the Supreme Court and students. I find it ridiculous and unfair that, even with the students' efforts to deviate from the religious aspects of the song, it is still not allowed. Students should be allowed a say in the things that they're involved, especially if their wishes are not a violation.

Indep_Elim_Y said...

If the song was deemed "overtly religious," why would we then say the pledge of allegiance? I know people are trying to ban that at the moment, but for the justice to say that the administration had the right ban the song is just wrong. Even with experience and HHS, it almost feels like students have no say in anything and that the admins. have everything to say, like what they say is law. Where are students' rights? It seems as the years go by, students' voices are diminishing.

Julia Maniquiz! said...

First of all, the school district was overstepping their authority. In refusing to allow the students to perform what they wanted, the administration directly violated the students' First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court was incorrect in refusing to hear the case. This situation mirrors what occurred at Hercules High's graduation last year, when the administration did not take into account the student body's voices and opinions.

Stephanie said...

I think the administration's decision was unreasonable. Here in the U.S. we thrive on the ability to freely express ourselves and on the ability to speak freely. Disallowing the student to play "Ave Maria" is a violation of these rights.

I am not sure what the issue was last year; I remember Williams saying that students had to "audition" to give a speech at graduation, attempting to deprive high achievers (the valedictorian and salutatorian) of their diligently worked for privilege. I do not think Williams had this right either.

-SNy

Darlena said...

I think that's just stupid. I do not see anything wrong with playing a religious song for a graduation, especially without lyrics. Clearly, the students wished to play it because they liked how it sounded, not it's religious purposes/background. The Supreme Court turning the case down is another shock, students should have every right to present their case. The people that are making a big deal of the song choice are just paranoid. The students should be able to play music for the sake of music, without any religious connotations.

Patrick Li said...

Sigh. Like usual, these court guys are complete idiots who must be mentally retarded. The students JUST wanted to play a song! Why would anyone be against someone playing a freaken song. It doesn't even have lyrics. A lot of schools get music from websites and stuff, and they don't have any problems. I think the court should shut up and at least listen to the students for once.

Stefan said...

I think it WOULD have been reasonable to stop the song from being played if it contained the full lyrics, and was purposely meant to promote the student's respective religion. However, an instrumental song was what was to be played, eliminating the religious aspect of a song. It therefore wouldn't have been a violation of the separation between church and state. It should have been fine, but the administration was probably over-sensitive about the situation.

Joseph said...

There is nothing wrong with playing a religious song during graduation. The students were even going to play an instrumental version of the song and not even mention the title so no one is effected at the graduation ceremony. The supreme court is tripping and they should just let the kids off. They believe the students are not knowledgeable enough to take this to trail. The court should be equal despite the age. The student voice will create a major conflict with this incident otherwise.

Haley K. said...

Honestly, this entire case is a matter of the school district trying to be politically correct. I understand practicing religion in public schools has always been frowned upon, however, preventing a student from performing a religious hymn without any religious connotations is simply absurd. For one, the song's arrangement is different from the original, and two, there are no lyrics. Thus, the rights of students free speech in public schools is at risk.

Also, the controversy surrounding last year's graduation does pertain to the same issue of freedom of speech. Regardless of personal beliefs, this freedom should not be limited.

Henry said...

I guess this is another example of a school district being unreasonable. The student probably did not have any religious motives and only wanted to play the piece for its sound. Of course the school district does of the right to be cautious but taking all of this up is way too excessive. In my opinion, the school district should have allowed her to play the piece.

Fiona said...

Disallowing students to perform an inappropriate dance at a rally is one thing, but refusing to allow students to perform a song that they wanted is completely out of hand. By doing so, the administration violated the students' First Amendment of freedom of speech. In addition, the Supreme Court also violated the Amendment by refusing to listen to the case. The Amendments were made for a reason, so why isn't the Supreme Court following it? This situation definitely relates to the controversy at last year's graduation at Hercules High. The administration was unfair by not listening to the students' voices and opinions. Just because Hercules High's school is predominately Asian, it is not right to not let last year's Senior President, who was Asian, to speak at the graduation. The administration should always be open to students' ideas rather than just follow their own ideas.

Chris Habash said...

It seems the government is abusing its powers by depriving students of their freedoms, as promised by the constitution. The song they wanted to play did not even have lyrics, and so it seems a bit unreasonable that the song wasn't allowed to be played. This case will have lasting implications for students speech, as the Supreme Court will continue to disallow students to express their freedoms.

Sheralynn said...

"the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that government, including schools, cannot promote religion but that students have a right to express their own religious beliefs." Playing a musical composition is not promoting a religion. Nurre would not have been preaching, nor would she have been intending for anyone to be directly affected by her performance, i.e. sing along if they didn't want to. No one even had to listen if they didn't want to. This is a complete violation of expressing one's religious beliefs.

Stephanie Chan said...

Not only does the administration violate a studen'ts rights, but also is taking this issue out of hand. Unwilling students can have a choice of participating or not, but the rest of the students should be able to perform "Ave Maria." Student opinion should always be heard and put into consideration because afterall, because the student wins in a student administrator ratio.

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