I simply love it when one of our young people displays courage in the face of adversity. I love it when they stand up to authority, give them the finger and say, “No, I’m not going to be cowed simply by virtue of your position over me.” Instead, they take a stand for what they know and believe to be right, and come out winning. That’s eighteen-year-old Emma Sullivan, of Prairie Village, Kansas.(1)
It seems that Miss Sullivan does not like the current governor of Kansas, Republican Sam Brownback. As a matter of fact, not a lot of people like Governor Brownback these days. His approval rating stands at just forty-seven percent as of four months ago, according to a SurveyUSA poll from that timeframe.(2) But I digress. Last week, Miss Sullivan was among several from her school that went on a field trip to Topeka, as part of the “Youth in Government” program. During the trip, she tweeted back to her sixty-or-so followers that she had, “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”
It also seems that Governor Brownback has his own little version of “Big Brother” working for him. An aide to the governor, one Sherriene Jones-Sontag serves as his Director of Communications. One of her job duties is to monitor the internet for anything referring to the governor that would cast him in a negative light. Ms. Jones-Sontag came across Emma’s little fifteen-word tweet, and sprang into action. She phoned the organisers of Youth in Government, they in turn phoned the administration at Shawnee Mission East High School back in Prairie Village. Once Emma Sullivan returned to the school, she was called to the principal’s office, and chided for almost an hour. The chiding culminated in the principal demanding that Emma write a letter of apology to the governor, by the following Monday (yesterday.) Sullivan announced her refusal on Sunday, citing her right to free speech under the First Amendment.
Now, I’m not at all sure how the wider media became aware of this situation, but on Monday afternoon the governor’s office backed down, and so did the school.(3)
(SOAPBOX=ON) If I were a Kansas voter, this would kill any chances that I would ever vote for this joker again. Any government entity that would while unchecked, seek to stifle free speech is a danger to Democracy. I would also press for greater oversight of the principal of the high school. Evidently, he also thinks that he can intimidate students and stifle freedoms. Someone needs to school that man on In re Gault (387 U.S. 1, 1967) and Tinker v. Des Moines ICSD (393 U.S. 503, 1969). (Not that it would do much good, my own kids have also had their free speech rights challenged by the schools here.)
In any case, freedom and justice won. Emma Sullivan won. She stood up to the “establishment” in fine form, and came out smelling like a dozen roses. To Emma Sullivan, I give my official Cybersattva “Komapsumnida!” for keeping freedom alive.
To Sam Brownback and his staff, I present a different mode of “digital communication,” the Freedom Salute: (and since Ms. Jones-Sontag is monitoring the internet for Governor Brownback, I’m sure the message will reach its intended recipients!)