ACLU Sues Pennsylvania School District Over Expulsion of Middle School Rapper for Songs Written at Home

August 3, 2005 12:00 am

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PITTSBURGH–The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a 14-year-old rap artist and his parents charging that the Riverside Beaver School District violated the student’s First Amendment free speech rights by expelling the boy for rap music he wrote at home and posted on the Internet.

“School officials are not parents, and the First Amendment limits their authority to control what students read, write, rap or listen to in their own homes,” said Witold Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director and one of the lawyers in this case. “If this expulsion is upheld then it will effectively be illegal for Riverside Beaver District students to compose rap music, even in their own homes.” Walczak noted that the student wrote and recorded the music at home, did not bring it into school, and that the principal admitted that the songs did not cause any disruption in the classroom.

The student, Anthony Latour, has been writing and playing rap music for several years, and his parents bought him home recording equipment. Anthony’s songs are fairly typical rap music, which include verbal challenges and “jousting” with other rappers and violent imagery. He cites as influences Eminem, DZK, Eyedia, and Necro.

While Anthony’s parents say they are not rap devotees, they are supportive of their son. According to Anthony’s father, John Latour, “My grandparents didn’t like Elvis; my parents didn’t like Pink Floyd; and even though rap music may not be my taste, as parents my wife and I support Anthony’s artistry and passion for rap music. And it is our job, not that of school officials, to decide what music Anthony can compose and listen to in our home.”

In late April of this year, Anthony was arrested for several songs he composed over the past three years under the charge that the lyrics are “terroristic threats” because they describe acts of violence. Although the juvenile court charges are still pending, the school district expelled him from school for the rest of this year and next.

The music objected to by school officials includes a two-year-old song responding to a classmate who had taunted him, a song written last fall describing a school shooting, and a rap challenge to another student who agreed to the verbal and musical joust.

The ACLU said that if school officials were concerned by the music that Anthony created outside of school, they should have raised their concerns with Anthony and his parents. Instead, said Walczak, officials went directly for the “death penalty of school discipline.” To this day, no school official has addressed the issue with Anthony.

“Many people don’t like or understand rap music, and some people won’t like Anthony’s lyrics,” said Kim Watterson, a cooperating ACLU lawyer from the Pittsburgh law firm Reed Smith, who is handling the case. “But since these songs do not contain what’s known in the law as ‘true threats,’ school officials and local police cannot make the music a crime simply because they find the lyrics offensive.”

The lawsuit was filed today in U. S. District Court in Pittsburgh. Plaintiffs are Anthony and his parents, John and Denise Latour. The claims include a request that the court rule that the school’s expulsion violates Anthony’s First Amendment free speech rights and the parents’ right to control and direct their children’s upbringing. The lawsuit seeks Anthony’s reinstatement to school and damages. The ACLU expects to file a motion for preliminary injunction requesting Anthony’s reinstatement within the next few days. The case is Latour v. Riverside Beaver School District.

A copy of the complaint is available at: /node/35527

Sample lyrics from Anthony’s raps are available at: /node/35528

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