Is Freedom of Speech Safe in School Anymore?

By Luca Cantagallo, age 14

Marching your way around school. 
Image by Caleb Oquendo on Pexels. 

I had a feeling I would get in trouble when I headed to school that day. I go to a Catholic school, and this was supposedly not acceptable. I was wearing a pro-Palestine sweater, but I had no clue how far my teachers would go to get me to take it off.

It was mid-December and a dress-down day, which is where you do not have to wear your uniform. I walked into school intending to spread a good message. As soon as my sweater became visible, I was told to take it off, and I ended up in the principal’s office.

After a call to my mom and an hour and a half of waiting, I was seen by the principal. We went back and forth as he tried to convince me that my sweater was less acceptable than a Blue or Red Lives Matter shirt because it was about “foreign problems.” Eventually he asked, “Where did you say you wanted to go to high school?” After I responded, he said, “Did you know I was the principal there for a while?” I said no, and he responded, “Listen, kid, I don’t want to do this to you, but I’m the person that they would go to if something were to happen with your conduct.” 

It was an ultimatum. If I didn’t take off the sweater, I wouldn’t go to the high school of my choice. 

Feeling defeated and angry, I weighed my options and decided to take it off. Then they called my mom yet again, so she knew I “took it off on my own will.” 

Similar to my story, Rashida Tlaib, a congresswoman from Michigan, was recently censured on the grounds of antisemitism. In early November 2023, Rashida Tlaib posted her first statements regarding the war in Gaza on the popular social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. Shortly after, she posted another statement saying, “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free,” a popular chant used by pro-Palestine protesters to express hope for Palestinian liberation between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

Even though Jewish and Israeli people, including the Likud party, have used the phrase, some see this message as antisemitic when used by Palestinians because they believe it implies the expulsion of Jews from Israel. Twenty-two members of Tlaib’s party said that she was “promoting false narratives.” Others have argued that she was within her rights to spread her message.

On Nov. 8, 2023, the House held a vote that ended up being 234 to 188 in favor of censuring Tlaib. Similar to my experience, Rashida was threatened and eventually forced to stop spreading her message, even though many consider this forced silence as unjust. In contrast, people like Reps. Brad Sherman, Steve Chabot, Doug Lamborn and Lou Correa, just to name a few, can freely use their voice in support of Israel. In my opinion, people from both sides should be able to voice their opinions, no matter how strongly people in positions of power disagree. I hope that people who are fighting and supporting a liberated Palestine, like Tlaib and myself, will be able to post their support and wear any sweater they want without being silenced or punished.

Antisemitism: hostility toward or about Jewish people.

Censure: to express severe disapproval of (someone or something), especially in a formal statement.

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