LOS ANGELES - On behalf of a South Bay high school student and his parents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sent a letter to the Manhattan Beach Unified School District today demanding that school officials allow students to distribute counter military recruiting flyers without fear of punishment.
Sixteen-year-old Joshua Goldman, a junior at Mira Costa High School, was told in early October by a vice principal that he could not pass out flyers titled "Questions the Army Doesn't Want You to Ask" without prior approval. Goldman had passed out leaflets and hung six posters on public and school property. Goldman would like to distribute the same leaflets next week when the military returns to the school for its monthly recruiting event.
In a letter to Manhattan Beach Superintendent Gwen Gross, ACLU/SC staff attorney Ranjana Natarajan wrote: "We believe that a policy of requiring prior approval would violate Mr. Goldman's free speech rights under applicable law... California public school students enjoy broad free speech rights, including protection for 'distribution of printed materials.' " The letter continued "Mr. Goldman's flyer, which conveys a pro-peace message and seeks to educate readers about enlisting in the military, is not obscene, libelous, or at all likely to incite readers to disrupt school activities."
Goldman, who feeds the homeless every weekend with Food Not Bombs in Venice, hopes to study music or political science after graduating high school. He said military recruiters visit the high school about once a month and that a small percentage of his classmates serve in the military after high school. The majority of the 2,500-student school continue on to college.
"I thought passing out flyers would be a good way to let parents and students know the recruiters are on campus and get people to talk about it," Goldman said. "I was really surprised when the vice principal told me I had to get his permission to pass the leaflets out, especially since other students put up signs or hand things out all the time."
Goldman and his mother contacted the ACLU after a meeting with the vice principal during which the school official told them Goldman would face punishment for distributing his flyers to classmates if he did not obtain prior approval.
"Josh and I talked about the flyers and his plans to pass them out at school before he did it," Elaine Goldman said. "I was very proud that he researched the other side and wanted to encourage people to think critically about what the recruiters might be saying. The school should be a place for thoughtful, well-rounded discussion. I was shocked the school would try to stifle a student."
The letter asks the school district to ensure school policy does not infringe on students' free speech rights and seeks assurances that Josh Goldman will not be punished for distributing his pro-peace leaflets on campus.