Student Speech and the First Amendment Does the First Amendment allow public schools to prohibit students from displaying messages promoting the use of illegal drugs at schoolsupervised events? First Amendment A cornerstone principle of the American republic is the concept of individual liberties like “freedom of speech”. There has always been a delicate balance between a citizens constitutional right and the governments duty to provide a safe and secure living environment. Often times, these two entities clash. It is the purpose of the judicial branch to settle these disputes. Freedom of Speech Freedom of speech is not limited to spoken words alone, but includes several types of speech. “Pure speech” involves only spoken words, such as debates and public meetings, and has the greatest protection under the First Amendment. “Speech-plus” is speech combined with action, such as demonstrations and picketing. The speech portion of speechplus is generally protected, but the action portion may be regulated. Freedom of Speech “Symbolic speech” is action that conveys a message in itself, without spoken words, and is sometimes known as “expressive conduct”. Some examples of symbolic speech are wearing black arm bands to school to protest the Vietnam War or standing on the steps of a state capitol and burning an American flag. Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) Several high school students were suspended for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In a 7-2 decision the Court ruled that school officials had overstepped their authority and violated the students First Amendment free speech rights. "It can be hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate...." Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) However, the court added: "it has repeatedly affirmed the comprehensive authority of the States and of school authorities, consistent with fundamental constitutional safeguards, to prescribe and control conduct in the schools.“ The fact that the student's conduct did not produce any substantial disruption of normal school activities was an important factor in the Court's decision. Bethel v. Fraser (1986) Applying this “disruption” standard established in Tinker, the Court in a 7-2 decision upheld the suspension of Matthew Fraser, a 17-year-old senior at Bethel High School in Tacoma, Washington, who gave a school speech containing sexual innuendos. Bethel v. Fraser (1986) Speech given by Mathew Fraser: "I know a man who is firm - he's firm in his pants, he's firm in his shirt, his character is firm - but most [of] all, his belief in you the students of Bethel, is firm. Jeff Kuhlman is a man who takes his point and pounds it in. If necessary, he'll take an issue and nail it to the wall. He doesn't attack things in spurts - he drives hard, pushing and pushing until finally - he succeeds. Jeff is a man who will go to the very end - even the climax, for each and every one of you. So please vote for Jeff Kuhlman, as he'll never come [long pause] between us and the best our school can be. He is firm enough to give it everything." Bethel v. Fraser (1986) The Court said "it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse." Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) The Spectrum, the school-sponsored newspaper of Hazelwood East High School, was written and edited by students. In May 1983, the school principal received the pages proofs for the May 13 issue. The principal found two of the articles (teen pregnancy & divorce) in the issue to be inappropriate, and ordered that the pages on which the articles appeared be withheld from publication. Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) In a 5-3 decision the Court argued that schools must be able to set high standards for student speech disseminated under their auspices, and that schools retained the right to refuse to sponsor speech that was "inconsistent with 'the shared values of a civilized social order.'" Educators did not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the content of student speech so long as their actions were "reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical (educational) concerns." The actions of the principal, the Court held, met this test. Morse v. Frederick (2007) Joseph Frederick- 18 Senior at Juneau-Douglas High School Morse v. Frederick (2007) In 2002, high school principal Deborah Morse suspended 18- year-old Joseph Frederick after he displayed a banner reading "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" across the street from his school during the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay Parade. Morse v. Frederick (2007) Frederick sued, claiming his constitutional rights to free speech were violated. His suit was dismissed by the federal district court, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that Frederick's speech rights were violated. The school district decided to appeal the Ninth Circuit decision and the Supreme Court accepted the case for review. Morse v. Frederick (2007) Ken Starr, the lead attorney for the school district, made a point during oral argument that this case was really about drug use. This was a banner that was promoting drug use, a message that was inconsistent with the schools anti-drug policy and disruptive of the schools educational mission. Morse v. Frederick (2007) On the other hand, Justice Kennedy asked the question “is this really just about drug use?” Justice’s Souter and Ginsburg made the point that the message was really just nonsensical and a way for Mr. Frederick to get attention. Furthermore, they wondered whether there was an actual disruption, pointing out that the message was displayed on a public sidewalk, across from the school, with kids throwing snowballs, and people waiting for the TV cameras to show up. You Be The Judge… What do you think and how would you rule if you were a justice on the Supreme Court during this case? Answer the preceding question. Your answer must be a minimum of 7 sentences… Be sure to explain your reasoning and why you are deciding the way you are and be prepared to defend your points when called on… Conclusion… The Court reversed the Ninth Circuit by a 5-4 vote, ruling that school officials can prohibit students from displaying messages that promote illegal drug use. Chief Justice John Roberts's majority opinion held that although students do have some right to political speech even while in school, this right does not extend to pro-drug messages that may undermine the school's important mission to discourage drug use. The majority held that Frederick's message, though "cryptic," was reasonably interpreted as promoting marijuana use - equivalent to "[Take] bong hits" or "bong hits [are a good thing]." Conclusion… In ruling for Morse, the Court affirmed that the speech rights of public school students are not as extensive as those adults normally enjoy, and that the highly protective standard set by Tinker would not always be applied. In concurring opinions, Justice Thomas expressed his view that the right to free speech does not apply to students and his wish to see Tinker overturned altogether, while Justice Alito stressed that the decision applied only to pro-drug messages and not to broader political speech. The dissent argued that the majority opinion was "[...] deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high-school students [...]."