Defamation / Reputation, Hate Speech, Political Expression
Awan v. Levant
Closed Expands Expression
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There is a Spanish language version of this case available. View Spanish version
A student expressed political views that were highly critical of his school and the legal regime governing education in the country. For this, his school enrollment was not renewed. The Supreme Court of Chile held that the school administrators’ decision was arbitrary and contrary to freedom of expression. Consequently, it ordered the school to renew the student’s enrollment and take the necessary measures to reinstate him.
A student at a public school expressed his political views and criticized his school and the legal regime governing education in Chile. His school’s administration refused to renew his enrollment. The justification for this step was a teachers’ committee decision stating that education was not the student’s main priority, since he primarily spent his time on political activities at the school, and that these activities were not part of the school’s educational goals.
The student’s mother filed an action to enforce constitutional rights (recurso de protección) before the Court of Appeals of Antofagasta. The action argued that the decision not to renew her son’s enrollment due to his political ideas and the expression of these ideas through legal means (meetings and the delivery of “written materials” to his classmates) “create[d] a form of arbitrary, illegal and unjustified discrimination” [p. 2]. The action also stated that the measure was disproportionate, since her son’s behavior was normal for a child of his age, and although he expressed his disagreement with the systems in place, he did so within a framework of respect and legality.
The school’s attorneys requested the court to quash the action to enforce constitutional rights on the grounds that the school has not committed any “illegal or arbitrary actions”. Particularly, they indicated that the student made “purely political calls to action” in his criticism of his school and the legal regime governing Chilean education. The school’s counsel explained that the student ran for the presidency of the School Students’ Center on a platform entitled “May ‘68,” honoring the liberation movements that took place in Paris in May 1968.
They also noted several examples of “propaganda” spread by the student and a large poster […] which was placed in multiple locations in front of the school. An example of the propaganda statement was:
The Antofagasta Court of Appeals dismissed the action to enforce constitutional rights filed by the student’s mother because it did not show that the school principal had committed an arbitrary or illegal act or omission that violated any constitutional guarantees. The Appeals Court declared that the school’s code of conduct authorized terminating the student’s enrollment upon conducting an internal procedure, in extremely serious cases, and that the contract for the provision of educational services was signed by the parties for only one school year. The student’s mother appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.
When the Supreme Court reviewed the original judgment, it ruled that the public school administrators’ decision was arbitrary and contrary to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, given that it punished the legitimate communication of ideas. Consequently, it reversed the original judgment and ordered the school to renew the student’s enrollment and adopt the necessary measures to reinstate him.
The Court had to determine whether the public school had violated a student’s right to freedom of expression when, based on the provisions of the school code of conduct, the administration refused to renew his enrollment on the basis of his repeat and public expression of political views against the Chilean education system and the school.
The Supreme Court held that the school administrators’ decision was based solely on their negative assessment of the student’s views and did not take “into account reasons related to the best interests of the child,” especially with regard to “strengthening his educational development.” In this regard, it concluded that although it was clear that the student “strongly criticized his school and the legal regime governing education,” the public school administrators’ decision was arbitrary and contrary to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, given that it punished the legitimate communication of ideas.
The Supreme Court held that the following do not constitute legal grounds justifying the termination of a student’s enrollment:
Judges Carreño and Araneda dissented. They argued that the student’s behavior at the school warranted the imposed disciplinary sanction. They stated that all students are subject to the code of conduct and that the student’s legal guardian accepted these rules during enrollment. Therefore, there could have been no violation in simply applying sanctions against those who fail to comply with code [p.11].
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands expression. It reiterates that the right to free expression could be enjoyed by children and adolescents, even on the premises of public educational institutions.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in Chile and its decisions are binding.
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