Amateur Rapper, Suspended Student, Plaintiff

Taylor Bell, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi is all of the above. And his case is the most recent one involving the First Amendment rights of students who use social media. In January, I commented on the United States Supreme Court’s decision not to hear two cases in which appellate courts had determined that high schools violated the First Amendment rights of students who’d posted on MySpace offensive comments about their principals. The appellate courts found that the schools simply failed to establish any substantial disruption with the comments. Bell’s case, however, probably illustrates where the situation crosses the line. Bell created a rap song that criticized two coaches at his high school. The soon to be classic (not) included the lyrics: “looking down girls’ shirts/drool running down your mouth/messing with wrong one/going to get a pistol down your mouth” and “middle fingers up if you can’t stand that n****/middle fingers up if you want to cap that n****.” Unlike the cases before the Supreme Court – which were admittedly disrespectful – this case involved a specific allegation of improper, if not illegal, conduct as well as a direct threat. While we may not know precisely where the First Amendment line lies, I’m pretty sure most courts would conclude that these lyrics crossed it.