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I’m on the student newspaper and I wanted to find out why my school made so many changes to our school lunch program recently. I submitted a FOIA request asking to see all of the principal’s email messages in the past year. The school told me it was going to charge me $5,000 to turn over the emails! I can’t afford that, so I can’t do the story. Is this right? Can the school charge me this much? Aren’t the emails public info?
The Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects your expression. But, the First Amendment also has an Establishment Clause, which bars any government actor, like your public school, from promoting an establishment of religion. In general, schools have wide authority to shut down speech solely because it is religious. Whether they can shut down speech under the Establishment Clause or if it is protected under the Free Speech Clause depends on two questions: (1) whether the students hearing the message are a “captive audience,” and (2) whether the student’s statement constitutes religious speech.