Is a sign on my car protected under freedom of speech?

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Is a sign on my car protected under freedom of speech?

I work at a school district that wants me to remove a sign against an upcoming proposition. The proposition has nothing to do with the district or any conflict of interest. Can the district make me remove it if I am parking on district property? If so, how is this different than bumper sticker attached to any vehicle? I believe this is covered under freedom of speech, is it not?

Asked on October 24, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If this was a private employer, there would be no doubt but that they could have you remove the sign--the first amendment does not apply to private employers. While the first amendment does apply to government employees (e.g. school districts), even the first amendement is not absolute: if the sign would be possibly disruptive of education, disparaging of some group served by the school (e.g anti-gay, if the proposition was regarding gay marriage), or otherwise something which legitimately impacts the school's educational mission, they might be able to ban it. Because it's a school, it's not clear they could, but there certainly is some content or expression which could be banned from school property. Cases like these are often complex, emotional, strongly contested ones; there is no single right answer. The issue for you may be that knowing that (1) there is a chance that rightfully or wrongfully, the school may take action, which would then force you to defend yourself; and (2) there is a chance that they could legitimately bar the sign; then is it worth fighting about. Or should you put the sign in your trunk while on school property?


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