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School District Cannot Suspend Students Who Fought Censorship By Reciting Vagina Monologues, NYCLU Says

The New York Civil Liberties Union today expressed its support for three Westchester public high school students who were suspended for saying the word “vagina” during their performance of a passage from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues at an event last week.

In a letter to the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, the NYCLU urged that the school rescind its suspensions of the students.

“It is shocking that school administrators would object to the public performance of a renowned literary work simply because it contained the word ‘vagina,'” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Schools should be encouraging students to express themselves freely, not silencing dialogue.”

School administrators reportedly had given the students the “choice” whether to perform the monologue without saying the word “vagina,” or to not perform it at all. Instead, the students performed the monologue as written. They are now being threatened with one-day suspensions. The suspensions have been put on hold pending reconsideration of the matter, in light of the controversy that has erupted.

The NYCLU’s letter asks the school district to lift the sentences of suspension for the young women. The letter points out that allowing the suspensions to go into effect would raise serious First Amendment concerns. Schools have right to prohibit vulgar or lewd speech, but the passage in question was neither vulgar nor lewd.

The letter also points out that the defense raised by school officials — that the students were suspended for insubordination because they had agreed not to say the prohibited word — was invalid because the school had no right to censor the young women’s speech in the first place.

“To act like saying ‘vagina’ publicly is in some way insubordination only reinforces the same negative reactions that the Vagina Monologues aims to counter,” said Galen Sherwin, Acting Director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “These young women should be applauded for their courage and self-possession, not disciplined for insubordination.”

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