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Judge overturns boy's expulsion from school for writing rap lyrics

Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2005

PITTSBURGH — A judge on Wednesday ordered a school district to readmit a 14-year-old student expelled for writing violent, profane rap lyrics, finding that his songs didn't amount to ''true threats'' against the school and so were protected by the First Amendment.

The Riverside Beaver County School District kicked out Anthony Latour because officials believed his lyrics constituted threats to shoot up the school and another student.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Latour, claimed his songs were ''battle rap'' — a music genre in which two people try to out-rhyme each other, often using violent putdowns.

U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose overturned his expulsion and issued a preliminary injunction ordering the district to admit Latour to the ninth grade when classes resume Aug. 31.

In one song, Latour wrote: ''So watch what you say about me, I'm everywhere son / And the word of mouth is that I'm carrying guns / Now that I'm comin' for you — what the (expletive) you gonna do / I come double with the pump tons of slugs that will punish you.''

School officials learned of LaTour's writings in March and contacted police, who charged him with terroristic threats and harassment. Latour was expelled in May. The charges are pending.

The judge said the school's argument that the music was threatening was weakened because school officials didn't take immediate steps to investigate the music, such as searching Latour's locker or contacting his parents. Furthermore, Ambrose said school officials didn't present any evidence that the songs disrupted school.

''If you could punish on words alone without looking at context, you could wipe out the entertainment industry — and certainly rap music,'' said Witold ''Vic'' Walczak, the Pennsylvania legal director of the ACLU.

The school district's solicitor, Greg Fox, said officials were disappointed, but would follow the judge's ruling.

''Sometimes, perhaps it is better to take the words too seriously than to dismiss them,'' Fox said in a statement.

''There have been several parents within this school district that felt the songs could not be taken lightly and were very concerned about the safety of their children.''

Latour still faces an Aug. 31 juvenile court hearing on the criminal charges. Walczak said that even if Latour were found to be delinquent, that wouldn't be grounds for keeping him out of school because the songs were composed at his home.



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