What’s Our Right?

Megan George, Staff Writer

The argument regarding a student’s freedom of speech has remained a very hot topic in the United States over the course of the last fifty years. Many students are not aware of these rights that have been fought for high school students nationwide and what type of free speech students are entitled to.
In 1965, Mary Beth, age 13, John Tinker, age 15, and Christopher Eckhardt, age 16, all wore black armbands to an Iowa public high school in protest of the Vietnam War leading to their suspensions. The parents of these students argued that it was the students’ right to wear these armbands because it was a form of peaceful protest under symbolic speech.
In the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District court decision in 1969, it was decided that “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
This court case was the first step in many taken to ensure the rights of freedom of speech for students today.
In 1986, high school student Matthew Fraser was suspended for giving a speech at a student assembly that contained lewd speech. Fraser made numerous sexual references and used harmful words and was accused of making a “vulgar” speech as opposed to a pure “political” speech. In the Bethel v. Fraser decision, it was decided by the Supreme Court stated “Surely, it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse.” This court ruling contradicted the Tinker decision 1965 because a student is allowed to project a political message. The revised court ruling, following the decision of the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District court case claimed:
“Teachers and administrators must have the authority to do what they reasonably believe is in the best interest of their educational responsibilities, as we cannot abandon our schools to the whims or proclivities of children. The Court finds that . . . School Officials had an interest in protecting their young students from exposure to vulgar and offensive language.”
The last major court case involving students freedom of speech was in 1988.
A principal at a school censored its school newspaper, The Spectrum, because it contained two stories about teen pregnancy and divorce. The principal believed the story about teen pregnancy was to inappropriate for some younger students, and he found that the divorce story did not allow one of the parents involved in the case the chance to respond to certain comments.
The students at the school felt the principal was violating their First Amendment right. This case found its way to the Supreme Court where it was found that the principal did not violate the First Amendment because the paper had always been semi-controlled by school officials because it was produced as part of the curriculum in a journalism class.
The Court ruled that: “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
With the help of all of these powerful court cases over the years, the United States has created a safe environment for students to have a freedom of speech as long as it does not disrupt the school. Students are allowed to profess their beliefs as long as they are within the bounds of the moral code of the school they attend.