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Vassal Lane Eighth Grade Mock Trial Group Argues Free Speech Case At Moakley United States Courthouse

Vassal Lane Eighth Grade Mock Trial Group Argues Free Speech Case At Moakley United States Courthouse
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The Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston was the venue for a recent First Amendment case on the issue of whether a school can limit its students’ freedom of speech and expression.

It was a mock trial, a revisiting of the seminal United States Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, and 22 VLUS Eighth graders - including this author - took on the issue, half the group preparing and arguing the case for the school district and the other half for the plaintiffs, who were students who said their First Amendment right to freedom of speech had been violated by the school.

VL Monthly interviewed Mock Trial member Jackson Morre-Otto about the visit. His interview follows.

“The program was sponsored by Discovering Justice, a Boston-based civic and justice education nonprofit organization, whose mission is to enhance students’ awareness of the value of the justice system and their civic responsibility through programs connecting classrooms and courtrooms.

The first part of the trip was a tour of the Moakley Courthouse. The second half consisted of the students preparing to argue and then arguing a case in a courtroom before a judge.

A lawyer for the First District Court of Appeals acted as the judge for our case.

mock_trial_content3.pngThe case we were arguing before the Court - a Constitutional Law case - was hypothetically taking place before the Supreme Court, which it did in real life. Tinker v. Des Moines was a free speech case, brought by students who were told by their school that if they wore black armbands in school (in protest of the Vietnam War) they would be expelled until they agreed not to wear the armbands. They continued to wear the armbands, and were expelled. In response to their expulsion, the students’ parents filed suit against the school, claiming a violation of the students’ First Amendment rights to free speech. The school said the students’ actions disrupted the school’s mission of learning. The case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court. In the actual case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students, stating ‘It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate’.”