Noah Christiansen, a 17-year-old student at Robert McQueen High School in Reno, Nevada, had some choice words when he called his congressman, Rep. Mark Amodei, to demand action on gun control.
Specifically, he told a staffer for Amodei, a Republican, that Congress needed to “get off their [expletive] asses” and pass legislation, reported the Los Angeles Times. Later that day, Christiansen was called to the principal’s office and told he was suspended for two days for using disrespectful language.
How did the school know about his phone call to the congressman? A staffer from the office had called in to complain.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union says it is “deeply disturbed” by what it says are Amodei’s efforts to restrain Christiansen’s use of free speech.
“As a member of Congress, you have sworn to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, and you should know that people have the right to criticize government officials, even if they use colorful language,” the ACLU said in a letter, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Noah’s activity did not disturb or impact any aspect of the educational environment. The only reason RMHS administration even discovered that Noah made this call is because someone from Congressman Amodei’s office called the school in what can only be considered retaliation for expressing his political viewpoint to the Congressman.”
In an interview with the Nevada Independent, Christiansen said he could have chosen better words, but that didn’t mean he should have been suspended from school for using them in a private conversation.
“I’m smart enough to use better words than of course the f-word,” he told the site. “But, at the same time, even if I do want to use words and use them over and over again, it’s my right to do so.”
The school district told the Reno Gazette Journal that it “honors, respects and adheres to the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution,” and pointed out that it didn’t punish students who participated in the student walkout on March 14.
“The district expects students to act appropriately and with decorum,” the statement went on. “Some students were disciplined for breaking student conduct codes or participating in other inappropriate behavior.”
Amodei said he had not personally directed anyone to call the student’s school but that he agreed with the action.
“Look, I’m not going to be the language proctor for the U.S. House of Representatives, but I am going to allow a senior staffer who deals with all of that stuff — if they think a situation was such that it warranted saying something up the line.... Well, you know what, I’m responsible for what I’m saying right now. Welcome to the world where words have impact,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
The Nevada Independent described Amodei as a “staunch supporter of gun rights” who has considered supporting legislation that would ban bump stocks and improve background checks.