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Honk if you support free speech

By The Associated Press

PHILOMATH, Ore. — Proposed restrictions for bumper-sticker slogans on cars parked at Philomath High School are sparking a free-speech debate in this small town.

Philomath High School Principal Joane Eby said new rules were needed after several students and school employees complained about a bumper sticker referencing female body parts.

But the owner of the car, a student, refused to remove the sticker or move the car, citing restrictions on freedom of speech.

Eby said the definition of what's appropriate language at the high school needs to be clarified, and has proposed new guidelines on the display of stickers or signs that may be racist, sexual or gender-biased, or that promote drinking, drugs or smoking.

But the proposal was put on hold after a Philomath School Board member requested a legal opinion. Board member Jodi Nelson said she wanted to know if censoring bumper stickers would violate the First Amendment.

Eby said the restrictions wouldn't prohibit bumper stickers, but would require drivers to park off campus if they didn't want to remove those that were deemed offensive under the policy.

Ryan Tuttle, a 2002 graduate of Philomath High School, said it's a good thing that he's no longer in school, or he would have to park off campus. The back windows of his truck are covered with decals, and there's a small black and white sticker with words that some people might consider racist, he said.

"It's a sticker on a car," Tuttle said. "I have a right to my opinion."

But Philomath Superintendent Terry Kneisler said the parking lot is an extension of the learning environment and that there's legal precedent for schools being allowed to regulate student speech there.


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Speaking out in school

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