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High school senior punished for criticizing governor on Twitter

November 28, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
High school senior Emma Sullivan was just following a fine American tradition in 21st century style when she said something rude on Twitter about Kansas governor Sam Brownback last week.

"Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot," tweeted the 18-year-old, a student at Shawnee Mission East High School in Kansas.

Sullivan didn't actually meet the governor in person; she was just joking with her friends. But the Republican governor was unamused. His communications director tracked down the girl's school and contacted her high school principal, who ordered her to write an apology letter to Brownback and even told her what she ought to include in the letter.

Sullivan refused to apologize. After the story broke and much ridicule was heaped on Brownback, it was the governor's office that ended up apologizing. The governor belatedly realized that Sullivan, a legal adult after all, was exercising her constitutional right to freedom of speech and political dissent.

Was it rude and crude? Sure. Was it immature? Without a doubt. Teenagers tend to be immature. When I was 17, I wore a T-shirt everywhere with a particularly unflattering message about a Presidential candidate. If Twitter had existed, I'd probably have gotten in trouble for the same sort of thing. Political speech isn't always polite or all that intelligent.

There's a lot that makes me cringe when I read Sullivan's tweet. The grammar nazi in me itches for a red pen to correct the numerous errors Sullivan made in punctuation, capitalization and sentence construction. If I were Sullivan's English teacher, I'd assign her an essay in which she must find a better way to tell Governor Brownback just what she thinks is amiss with his administration.

Far more frightening than Sullivan's bad writing is the idea that a governor or his representative would dare try to stifle a citizen's right to freedom of speech or presume to demand an apology for it. Brownback and his staff should be ashamed of themselves.


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