The Right to Swear

There’s an update to the truly weird case of a Mississippi community college student suspended from a course for swearing, outside of class. It’s all over.

On March 29, 2010, Isaac Rosenbloom, an emergency medical technician and student at Hinds Community College in Pearl, Miss., stayed after class with several other students to speak with a professor, Barbara Pyle, a speech instructor. At some point during the discussion Rosenbloom said to another student that his grade in Pyle’s class was “going to fuck up my entire GPA.”

Pyle began a disciplinary complaint against Rosenbloom. The school found Rosenbloom, who is 31 years old, guilty of “flagrant disrespect” and gave him 12 demerits, three short of suspension. He was also removed from Pyle’s class, which caused him to lose his financial aid. Rosenbloom, who was now effectively no longer a student, contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an academic free speech advocacy organization. According to FIRE:

After [HCC President Clyde] Muse failed to respond to FIRE, FIRE obtained the assistance of attorneys Robert B. McDuff and Sibyl Byrd, who took up Rosenbloom’s case and secured a settlement in his favor. HCC has removed the finding and demerits from Rosenbloom’s record and has restored his financial aid. McDuff is a civil rights and criminal defense attorney practicing in Jackson.

Well good for Rosenbloom. FIRE’s complaint, however, was:

not only that HCC’s policy is unconstitutional but also that it was applied unconstitutionally to punish Rosenbloom for his protected speech outside of class. In contravention of the First Amendment, HCC bans “public profanity, cursing and vulgarity,” assessing a fine of $25 for the first offense, $50 plus ten to fifteen demerits for the second offense, and suspension for the third offense.

Rosenbloom got his financial aid back, but the rule against swearing, or something, remains in place at HCC.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer