NEWARK – The ACLU of New Jersey today sent a letter to the Camden County Board of Commissioners reminding them of their responsibility to uphold students’ rights to free speech and free expression. The letter also calls on the Board to disavow an earlier effort by two of its commissioners – via a letter sent to the Superintendent of the Eastern Camden County Regional School District on April 22 – to incorrectly characterize any pro-Palestinian speech as antisemitic and dangerously disregard students’ free speech rights under the federal and state constitutions.  

“Students should be commended for engaging in peaceful protest, not condemned. The Commissioners’ letter was an irresponsible overreach by government officials to stifle legitimate student speech and we urge the Board to disavow it. To build a fairer future, we are all responsible for ensuring opportunities for civic participation remain accessible for generations to come,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo

The Commissioners’ letter prompted school officials to cancel a walkout in support of Palestine, the cessation of bombing, and human rights that was planned by students at Eastern Regional High School even though the posters for the event made no mention of violence or discriminatory content. Further, the students involved in planning the walkout attempted to work with school administrators to exercise their right to free speech.  

Since 1969 in Tinker v. Des Moines, courts have recognized that students’ First Amendment right to free speech does not stop at the schoolhouse gates. In New Jersey, the state constitution further ensures that schools cannot suppress unpopular or controversial viewpoints to avoid “discomfort or unpleasantness.” These protections are essential in preparing students to become informed members of a democratic society where they will be faced with differing opinions and conflicting information.   

As students around the country continue to engage in widespread protest, it is critical to distinguish political expression and peaceful protest from incidents that are antisemitic, anti-Israeli, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, or anti-Arab. While schools are responsible for addressing incidents of discrimination, the First Amendment would mean nothing if school administrators could suppress political viewpoints simply because they offend people in the community or because of external pressure from other government officials.