Three top names in the world of rap music have taken a stand on an upcoming US Supreme Court case over the first amendment right of free speech. The artists have made contributions in a legal brief in defense of a high school student who was disciplined by his school district for posting a rap video online. Taylor Bell was a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi, in 2011 when he posted the video that spoke out against alleged sexual misconduct by two coaches.
According to Bell, female students told him about sexual comments and unwanted touching by the coaches and he was angered by the situation. He recorded his video off campus at a professional recording studio. One of the lines in the song states “Looking down girls’ shirts, drool running down your mouth. Going to get a pistol down your mouth.”School officials decided that Bell was guilty of harassment, intimidation and “threatening two named educators with gun-related violence.”
Bell was transferred to another school and his record noted the perceived threats that led to his transfer. He and his mother sued the school district to have his record expunged and for $1 in damages stating that his First Amendment right of free speech was violated. The case went all the way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans which ruled against Bell in a divided decision. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in Bell v. Itawamba County School Board and will address the merits of the case.
“Anyone who is learned in law is capable of separating art and lyrics, whether you agree with them or not, and actual human behavior. I think the courts understand it when it’s Johnny Cash. I think they understand it when it’s Robert Nesta Marley. It is true that Johnny Cash did not actually shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Bob Marley did not actually shoot the sheriff. Treating rap lyrics differently persecutes poor young men based on their class and color,” said Killer Mike in a recent interview.
Other artists who have signed the brief on behalf of Bell include Pharoahe Monch, Boots Riley, Toni Blackman, Jasiri X and Favianna Rodriguez.