Students & Free Speech

Today in class we looked at primary source – Tinker v. Des Moines Board of Education.  Students examined thetext of the first Amendment, identified the Five Freedoms which it protects, and then applied this to the Tinker case.  We used a great web resource to read and listen to the case – – and discussed its implications.

  • Are there limits on free speech for students in schools? If so, what are those limits?
  • Who did the Supreme Court side with? Was anything unconstitutional?
  • What was the precedent set by this ruling?

8th Period, SCOTUS Study

First, read over these cases with your partner(s). Find the top 3 you’re interested in.

Engel v. Vitale (1962)
School initiated-prayer in the public school system violates the First Amendment.
In the New York school system, each day began with a nondenominational prayer acknowledging dependence upon God. This action was challenged in Court as an unconstitutional state establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed, stating that the government could not sponsor such religious activities.

Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
Students do not leave their rights at the schoolhouse door.
To protest the Vietnam War, Mary Beth Tinker and her brother wore black armbands to school. Fearing a disruption, the administration prohibited wearing such armbands. The Tinkers were removed from school when they failed to comply, but the Supreme Court ruled that their actions were protected by the First Amendment.

Goss v. Lopez (1975)
Students are entitled to certain due process rights.
Nine students at an Ohio public school received 10-day suspensions for disruptive behavior without due process protections. The Supreme Court ruled for the students, saying that once the state provides an education for all of its citizens, it cannot deprive them of it without ensuring due process protections.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1983)
Administrators may edit the content of school newspapers.
The principal of Hazelwood East High School edited two articles in the school paper The Spectrum that he deemed inappropriate. The student authors argued that this violated their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that administrators can edit materials that reflect school values.

New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985)
Students have a reduced expectation of privacy in school.
A teacher accused T.L.O. of smoking in the bathroom. When she denied the allegation, the principal searched her purse and found cigarettes and marijuana paraphernalia. A family court declared T.L.O. a delinquent. The Supreme Court ruled that her rights were not violated since students have reduced expectations of privacy in school.

Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser (1987)
Students do not have a First Amendment right to make obscene speeches in school.
Matthew N. Fraser, a student at Bethel High School, was suspended for three days for delivering an obscene and provocative speech to the student body. In this speech, he nominated his fellow classmate for an elected school office. The Supreme Court held that his free speech rights were not violated.

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000)
Students may not use a school’s loudspeaker system to offer student-led, student-initiated prayer.
Before football games, members of the student body of a Texas high school elected one of their classmates to address the players and spectators. These addresses were conducted over the school’s loudspeakers and usually involved a prayer. Attendance at these events was voluntary. Three students sued the school arguing that the prayers violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. A majority of the Court rejected the school’s argument that since the prayer was student initiated and student led, as opposed to officially sponsored by the school, it did not violate the First Amendment. The Court held that this action did constitute school-sponsored prayer because the loudspeakers that the students used for their invocations were owned by the school.

Board of Education of Independent School District #92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls (2002)
Random drug tests of students involved in extracurricular activities do not violate the Fourth Amendment.
In Veronia School District v. Acton (1995), the Supreme Court held that random drug tests of student athletes do not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. Some schools then began to require drug tests of all students in extracurricular activities. The Supreme Court in Earls upheld this practice.

Zelma v. Simmons-Harris (2002)
Certain school voucher programs are constitutional.
The Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program allowed certain Ohio families to receive tuition aid from the state. This would help offset the cost of tuition at private, including parochial (religiously affiliated), schools. The Supreme Court rejected First Amendment challenges to the program and stated that such aid does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
Colleges and universities have a legitimate interest in promoting diversity.
Barbara Grutter alleged that her Equal Protection rights were violated when the University of Michigan Law School’s attempt to gain a diverse student body resulted in the denial of her admission’s application. The Supreme Court disagreed and held that institutions of higher education have a legitimate interest in promoting diversity.

Roper v. Simmons (2005)
It is cruel and unusual punishment to execute persons for crimes they committed before age 18.
Matthew Simmons was sentenced to death for the murder of a woman when he was seventeen years of age. In the 1988 case Thompson v. Oklahoma, the Supreme Court ruled that executing persons for crimes committed at age fifteen or younger constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Roper argued that “evolving standards of decency” prevented the execution of an individual for crimes committed before the age of eighteen. A majority of the Supreme Court agreed with Roper, and held that to execute him for his crime would violate the Eighth Amendment.

Then, enter the case name (Simpson v. Flanders, for example) at this website: Read the details about the case, including the court transcript, and listen to an audio recording of the case (if available).

Lastly, present a paragraph summary to share with classmates at the end of class.