ACLU: Charges for Senatobia Graduation Cheering Infringes on Free Speech Rights | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

ACLU: Charges for Senatobia Graduation Cheering Infringes on Free Speech Rights

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi says that charging people for cheering at a graduation is violation of freedom of speech protections.

After the commencement ceremony last month for Senatobia High School, several people were charged disturbing the peace for cheering loved ones. If convicted, they can receive fines of up to $500 and six months in jail.

“The school’s response points to the issue of the subjective enforcement of these kinds of laws in Mississippi and across the country. The ACLU of Mississippi will stand in defense of citizens’ right to the freedom of speech and condemn an unnecessary criminal response to these kinds of actions," said ACLU Legal Director Charles Irvin in a press release.

“We were instructed to remove anyone that cheered during the ceremony, which was done,” Zabe Davis, the chief of the campus police and a Senatobia High alumnus, told the New York Times on Wednesday. “And then Jay Foster, the superintendent, came and pressed charges against those people.”

Irvin tells the Jackson Free Press that the state's disturbing the peace statue is vague, but he believes it is geared toward more nefarious acts such as acts of violence and intimidation. He also said intent is important.

"I don't think they intended to disturb anyone's peace," Irvin told the Jackson Free Press. "The whole thing sends a message of overreach."

The ACLU also said: "Citizens should be able to enjoy the right of free speech, especially at a congratulatory event, like a high school graduation. The action of charging the family with disturbing the peace by Senatobia Municipal School District Superintendent Jay Foster infringed upon the family’s exercise of this right. The cheering by the family does not qualify as a disturbance of the peace and should not have elicited a criminal response. Additionally, the family’s celebration was not calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, nor would it have led to a breach of the peace."

Irvin said the ACLU is not actively engaged in the case, but is closely monitoring it and hopes the families contact the ACLU and provide more information.

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