November 2012 • Vol. 32 No. 10 | An E-Publication of the Los Angeles County Bar Association

Judges and Attorneys Visit L.A. County High Schools During LACBA’s 11th Annual Dialogues on Freedom 

Students at 20 public high schools throughout Southern California participated in a lively debate about the balance between personal freedom and security with nearly 100 judges and lawyers as part of the 11th annual Dialogues on Freedom on October 10 and 11, 2012. LACBA members Angela Rooney, chair, Dialogues on Freedom, and Philip Marr are shown at right leading Chatsworth High School students in a discussion on constitutional issues such as free speech and unreasonable search and seizure, among others.

Dialogues on Freedom, which was started in 2002 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and continues today as a partnership between the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Los Angeles Superior Court, and Los Angeles Unified School District, challenges students to take a position on the concepts of freedom, law, and justice, and debate their position with classmates whose opinions may be different. 

Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich led a Dialogues on Freedom session with students at Banning High School. Other high schools participating in this year's program included Belmont, Chatsworth, Dorsey, Eagle Rock, Jefferson, Lincoln (Leadership in Entertainment and Media Arts), Mendez Learning Center, Monroe, Narbonne, North Hollywood, School of the Visual Arts on RFK Campus (formerly Ambassador Hotel), Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, Torres, University, Venice, West Adams Prep and Wilson, as well as Antelope Valley and Montebello district high schools. 

"There is no right or wrong answer in Dialogues on Freedom," said LACBA President Richard J. Burdge Jr. "We expect students will have differing opinions on whether or not authorities have the right and obligation to intervene on issues of personal freedom versus security for the greater good. The program is designed to encourage students to engage in an open dialogue with their classmates who have taken positions different from their own."

The program presents students with a series of prompts based on situations they may encounter at school or at home, and asks them if the teachers, principals, city officials, or police have the right and obligation to intervene in situations students view as an infringement on their personal freedom. This year’s prompts were based on the following scenarios:

  • Is it fair to suspend a student for yelling “Stop playing so gay” during a football game in violation of school policy even though the student did not mean it as a slur?
  • Is it alright for a student to be suspended for wearing a MLB team jacket because its colors are those of rival gangs, even though it is the student’s only jacket, and the student is not a member of a gang?
  • Should parents be held responsible and face a $500 fine for their children who violate the city’s 10:00 p.m. weeknight curfew ordinance?
  • Is it alright to suspend a student who answered a cell phone in class, knowing it is against school policy, even though it was the two assistant principals calling from a lost phone?
  • Is it fair that a high school senior should be prohibited from participating in any senior activities after being seen by the school’s principal wearing a school T-shirt with a marijuana leaf sewn onto it while being interviewed at a weekend movie opening by the local television station?

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