Home » LAW » Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986)

Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser (1986)

Excerpt from Lyles, et. al., Civil Liberties and the Constitution: Cases and Commentaries, 8th edition.

Respondent gave the following speech at a high school assembly in support of a candidate for student government office:

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 vote for Jeff for A.S.R. vice-president—he’ll never come between you and the best our high school can be.

Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser

478 U.S. 675 (1986)

Chief Justice Burger delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the First Amendment prevents a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a school assembly.

I

On April 26, 1983, respondent Matthew N. Fraser, a student at Bethel High School in Bethel, Washington, delivered a speech nominating a fellow student for student elective office. Approximately 600 high school students, many of whom were 14-year-olds, attended the assembly. Students were required to attend the assembly or to report to the study hall. The assembly was part of a school-sponsored educational program in self-government. Students who elected not to attend the assembly were required to report to study hall. During the entire speech, Fraser referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor.

Two of Fraser’s teachers, with whom he discussed the content of his speech in advance, informed him that the speech was “inappropriate and that he probably should not deliver it” and that his delivery of the speech might have “severe consequences.”

During Fraser’s delivery of the speech, a school counselor observed the reaction of students to the speech. Some students hooted and yelled; some by gestures graphically simulated the sexual activities pointedly alluded to in respondent’s speech. Other students appeared to be bewildered and embarrassed by the speech. One teacher reported that on the day following the speech, she found it necessary to forgo a portion of the scheduled class lesson in order to discuss the speech with the class.

A Bethel High School disciplinary rule prohibiting the use of obscene language in the school provides:

Conduct which materially and substantially interferes with the educational process is prohibited, including the use of obscene, profane language or gestures.

The morning after the assembly, the Assistant Principal called Fraser into her office and notified him that the school considered his speech to have been a violation of this rule. Fraser was presented with copies of four letters submitted by teachers, describing his conduct in the assembly; he was given a chance to explain his conduct. He admitted to having given the speech described and that he deliberately used sexual innuendo in the speech. Fraser was then informed that he would be suspended for three days, and that his name would be removed from the list of candidates for graduation speaker at the school’s commencement exercises.

Fraser sought review of this disciplinary action through the School District’s grievance procedures. The hearing officer determined that the speech given by respondent was “indecent, lewd, and offensive to students and faculty in attendance at the assembly.” The examiner determined that the speech fell within the ordinary meaning of “obscene,” as used in the disruptive-conduct rule, and affirmed the discipline in its entirety. Fraser served two days of his suspension and was allowed to return to school on the third day.

Respondent, by his father as guardian, then brought this action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Respondent alleged a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech and sought both injunctive relief and monetary damages under 42 U.S.C., 1983. The District Court held that the school’s sanctions violated respondent’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, that the school’s disruptive-conduct rule is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that the removal of respondent’s name from the graduation speaker’s list violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the disciplinary rule makes no mention of such removal as a possible sanction. The District Court awarded respondent $278 in damages, $12,750 in litigation costs and attorney’s fees, and enjoined the School District from preventing respondent from speaking at the commencement ceremonies. Respondent, who had been elected graduation speaker by a write-in vote of his classmates, delivered a speech at the commencement ceremonies on June 8, 1983.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the District Court (1985), holding that respondent’s speech was indistinguishable from the protest armband in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969). The court explicitly rejected the School District’s argument that the speech, unlike the passive conduct of wearing a black armband, had a disruptive effect on the educational process. The Court of Appeals also rejected the School District’s argument that it had an interest in protecting an essentially captive audience of minors from lewd and indecent language in a setting sponsored by the school, reasoning that the school board’s “unbridled discretion” to determine what discourse is “decent” would “increase the risk of cementing white, middle-class standards for determining what is acceptable and proper speech and behavior in our public schools.” Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected the School District’s argument that, incident to its responsibility for the school curriculum, it had the power to control the language used to express ideas during a school-sponsored activity.

We granted certiorari (1985).

We reverse.

II

This Court acknowledged in Tinker that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The Court of Appeals read that case as precluding any discipline of Fraser for indecent speech and lewd conduct in the school assembly. That court appears to have proceeded on the theory that the use of lewd and obscene speech in order to make what the speaker considered to be a point in a nominating speech for a fellow student was essentially the same as the wearing of an armband in Tinker as a form of protest or the expression of a political position.

The marked distinction between the political “message” of the armbands in Tinker and the sexual content of the respondent’s speech in this case seems to have been given little weight by the Court of Appeals. In upholding the students’ right to engage in a nondisruptive, passive expression of a political viewpoint in Tinker, this Court was careful to note that the case did “not concern speech or action that intrudes upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.”

It is against this background that we turn to consider the level of First Amendment protection accorded to Fraser’s utterances and actions before an official high school assembly attended by 600 students.

III

The role and purpose of the American public school system was well described by two historians, saying “public education must prepare pupils for citizenship in the Republic.… It must inculcate the habits and manners of civility as values in themselves conducive to happiness and as indispensable to the practice of self-government in the community and the nation.” See C. Beard and M. Beard, New Basic History of the United States 228 (1968). In Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68 (1979), we echoed the essence of this statement of the objectives of public education as the “inculcat[ion of] fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system.”

These fundamental values of “habits and manners of civility” essential to a democratic society must, of course, include tolerance of divergent political and religious views, even when the views expressed may be unpopular. But these “fundamental values” must also take into account consideration of the sensibilities of others and, in the case of a school, the sensibilities of fellow students. The undoubted freedom to advocate unpopular and controversial views in schools and classrooms must be balanced against the society’s countervailing interest in teaching students the boundaries of socially appropriate behavior. Even the most heated political discourse in a democratic society requires consideration for the personal sensibilities of the other participants and audiences.

In our Nation’s legislative halls, where some of the most vigorous political debates in our society are carried on, there are rules prohibiting the use of expressions offensive to other participants in the debate. Can it be that what is proscribed in the halls of Congress is beyond the reach of school officials to regulate?

The First Amendment guarantees wide freedom in matters of adult public discourse. A sharply divided Court upheld the right to express an antidraft viewpoint in a public place, albeit in terms highly offensive to most citizens. See Cohen v. California (1971). It does not follow, however, that simply because the use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, that the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school. In New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985), we reaffirmed that the constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings. As cogently expressed by Judge Newman, “the First Amendment gives a high school student the classroom right to wear Tinker’s armband, but not Cohen’s jacket.” Thomas v. Board of Education, Grenville Central School Dist., 607 F.2d 1043, 1057 (CA2 1979) (opinion, concurring in result).

Surely it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse. Indeed, the “fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system” disfavor the use of terms of debate highly offensive or highly threatening to others. Nothing in the Constitution prohibits the States from insisting that certain modes of expression are inappropriate and subject to sanctions. The inculcation of these values is truly the “work of the schools.” The determination of what manner of speech in the classroom or in school assembly is inappropriate properly rests with the school board.

The process of educating our youth for citizenship in public schools is not confined to books, the curriculum, and the civics class; schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order. Consciously or otherwise, teachers—and indeed the older students—demonstrate the appropriate form of civil discourse and political expression by their conduct and deportment in and out of class. Inescapably, like parents, they are role models. The schools, as instruments of the State, may determine that the essential lessons of civil, mature conduct cannot be conveyed in a school that tolerates lewd, indecent, or offensive speech and conduct such as that indulged in by this confused boy.

The pervasive sexual innuendo in Fraser’s speech was plainly offensive to both teachers and students—indeed to any mature person. By glorifying male sexuality, and in its verbal content, the speech was acutely insulting to teenage girl students. The speech could well be seriously damaging to its less mature audience, many of whom were only fourteen years old and on the threshold of awareness of human sexuality. Some students were reported as bewildered by the speech and the reaction of mimicry it provoked.

This Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence has acknowledged limitations on the otherwise absolute interest of the speaker in reaching an unlimited audience where the speech is sexually explicit and the audience may include children. In Ginsberg v. New York (1968), this Court upheld a New York statute banning the sale of sexually oriented material to minors, even though the material in question was entitled to First Amendment protection with respect to adults. And in addressing the question whether the First Amendment places any limit on the authority of public schools to remove books from a public school library, all Members of the Court, otherwise sharply divided, acknowledged that the school board has the authority to remove books that are vulgar. Board of Education v. Pico (1982). These cases recognize the obvious concern on the part of parents and school authorities acting in in loco parentis to protect children—especially in a captive audience—from exposure to sexually explicit, indecent, or lewd speech.…

We hold that petitioner School District acted entirely within its permissible authority in imposing sanctions upon Fraser in response to his offensively lewd and indecent speech. Unlike the sanctions imposed on the students wearing armbands in Tinker, the penalties imposed in this case were unrelated to any political view-point. The First Amendment does not prevent the school officials from determining that to permit a vulgar and lewd speech such as respondent’s would undermine the school’s basic educational mission. A high school assembly or classroom is no place for a sexually explicit monologue directed towards an unsuspecting audience of teenage students. Accordingly, it was perfectly appropriate for the school to disassociate itself to make the point to the pupils that vulgar speech and lewd conduct are wholly inconsistent with the “fundamental values” of public school education. Justice Black, dissenting in Tinker, made a point that is especially relevant in this case:

I wish therefore … to disclaim any purpose … to hold that the federal Constitution compels the teachers, parents and elected school officials to surrender control of the American public school system to public school students.

IV

Respondent contends that the circumstances of his suspension violated due process because he had no way of knowing that the delivery of the speech in question would subject him to disciplinary sanctions. This argument is wholly without merit. We have recognized that “maintaining security and order in the schools requires a certain degree of flexibility in school disciplinary procedures, and we have respected the value of preserving the informality of the student–teacher relationship.” Given the school’s need to be able to impose disciplinary sanctions for a wide range of unanticipated conduct disruptive of the educational process, the school disciplinary rules need not be as detailed as a criminal code which imposes criminal sanctions. Two days’ suspension from school does not rise to the level of a penal sanction calling for the full panoply of procedural due process protections applicable to a criminal prosecution. The school disciplinary rule proscribing “obscene” language and the prespeech admonitions of teachers gave adequate warning to Fraser that his lewd speech could subject him to sanctions.*

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is

Reversed.

[Justice Blackmun concurred in the result.]

Justice Brennan, concurring in the judgment:

Respondent gave the following speech at a high school assembly in support of a candidate for student government office:

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 vote for Jeff for A.S.R. vice-president—he’ll never come between you and the best our high school can be.

The Court, referring to these remarks as “obscene,” “vulgar,” “lewd,” and “offensively lewd” concludes that school officials properly punished respondent for uttering the speech. Having read the full text of respondent’s remarks, I find it difficult to believe that it is the same speech the Court describes. To my mind, the most that can be said about respondent’s speech—and all that need be said—is that in light of the discretion school officials have to teach high school students how to conduct civil and effective public discourse and to prevent disruption of school educational activities, it was not unconstitutional for school officials to conclude, under the circumstances of this case, that respondent’s remarks exceeded permissible limits. Thus, while I concur in the Court’s judgment, I write separately to express my understanding of the breadth of the Court’s holding.

The Court today reaffirms the unimpeachable proposition that students do not “‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’” If respondent had given the same speech outside of the school environment, he could not have been penalized simply because government officials considered his language to be inappropriate; the Court’s opinion does not suggest otherwise. Moreover, despite the Court’s characterizations, the language respondent used is far removed from the very narrow class of “obscene” speech which the Court has held is not protected by the First Amendment. It is true, however, that the state has interests in teaching high school students how to conduct civil and effective public discourse and in avoiding disruption of educational school activities. Thus, the Court holds that under certain circumstances, high school students may properly be reprimanded for giving a speech at a high school assembly which school officials conclude disrupted the school’s educational mission. Respondent’s speech may well have been protected had he given it in school but under different circumstances, where the school’s legitimate interests in teaching and maintaining civil public discourse were less weighty.

In the present case, school officials sought only to ensure that high school assembly proceed in an orderly manner. There is no suggestion that school officials attempted to regulate respondent’s speech because they disagreed with the views he sought to express. (Cf. Tinker, supra.) Nor does this case involve an attempt by school officials to ban written materials they consider “inappropriate” for high school students, cf. Board of Education v. Pico (1982), or to limit what students should hear, read, or learn about. Thus, the Court’s holding concerns only the authority that school officials have to restrict a high school student’s use of disruptive language in a speech given to a high school assembly.

The authority school officials have to regulate such speech by high school students is not limitless. (“[S]chool officials … do [not] have limitless discretion to apply their own notions of indecency. Courts have a First Amendment responsibility to insure that robust rhetoric … is not suppressed by prudish failures to distinguish the vigorous from the vulgar.”) Under the circumstances of this case, however, I believe that school officials did not violate the First Amendment in determining that respondent should be disciplined for the disruptive language he used while addressing a high school assembly. Thus, I concur in the judgment reversing the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Marshall, dissenting:

I agree with the principles that Justice Brennan sets out in his opinion concurring in the judgment. I dissent from the Court’s decision, however, because in my view the School District failed to demonstrate that respondent’s remarks were indeed disruptive. The District Court and Court of Appeals conscientiously applied Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1968) and concluded that the board had not demonstrated any disruption of the educational process. I recognize that the school administration must be given wide latitude to determine what forms of conduct are inconsistent with the school’s educational mission; nevertheless, where speech is involved, we may not unquestioningly accept a teacher’s or administrator’s assertion that certain pure speech interfered with education. Here the board, despite a clear opportunity to do so, failed to bring in evidence sufficient to convince either of the two lower courts that education at Bethel School was disrupted by respondent’s speech. I therefore see no reason to disturb the Court of Appeals’ judgment.

Justice Stevens, dissenting:

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

When I was a high school student, the use of those words in a public forum shocked the Nation. Today Clark Gable’s four-letter expletive is less offensive than it was then. Nevertheless, I assume that high school administrators may prohibit the use of that word in classroom discussion and even in extracurricular activities that are sponsored by the school and held on school premises. For I believe a school faculty must regulate the content as well as the style of student speech in carrying out its educational mission. It does seem to me, however, that if a student is to be punished for using offensive speech, he is entitled to fair notice of the scope of the prohibition and the consequences of its violation. The interest in free speech protected by the First Amendment and the interest in fair procedure protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment combine to require this conclusion.

One might conclude that respondent should have known that he would be punished for giving this speech on three quite different theories: (1) it violated the “Disruptive Conduct” rule published in the student handbook; (2) he was specifically warned by his teachers; or (3) the impropriety is so obvious that no specific notice was required. I discuss each theory in turn.

The Disciplinary Rule

At the time discipline was imposed, as well as in its defense of this lawsuit, the school took the position that respondent violated the following published rule:

In addition to the criminal acts defined above, the commission of, or participation in certain noncriminal activities or acts may lead to disciplinary action. Generally, these are acts which disrupt and interfere with the educational process.

Disruptive Conduct

Conduct which materially and substantially interferes with the educational process is prohibited, including the use of obscene, profane language or gestures.

Based on the findings of fact made by the District Court, the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence did not show “that the speech had a materially disruptive effect on the educational process.” The Court of Appeals explained the basis for this conclusion:

[T]he record now before us yields no evidence that Fraser’s use of a sexual innuendo in his speech materially interfered with activities at Bethel High School. While the students’ reaction to Fraser’s speech may fairly be characterized as boisterous, it was hardly disruptive of the educational process. In the words of Mr. McCutcheon, the school counselor whose testimony the District relies upon, the reaction of the student body ‘was not atypical to a high school auditorium assembly.’ In our view, a noisy response to a speech and sexually suggestive movements by three students in a crowd of 600 fail to rise to the level of a material interference with the educational process that justifies impinging upon Fraser’s First Amendment right to express himself freely.

 We find it significant that although four teachers delivered written statements to an assistant principal commenting on Fraser’s speech, none of them suggested that the speech disrupted the assembly or otherwise interfered with school activities. Nor can a finding of material disruption be based upon the evidence that the speech proved to be a lively topic of conversation among students the following day.

Thus, the evidence in the record, as interpreted by the District Court and the Court of Appeals, makes it perfectly clear that respondent’s speech was not “conduct” prohibited by the disciplinary rule. Indeed, even if the language of the rule could be stretched to encompass the nondisruptive use of obscene or profane language, there is no such language in respondent’s speech. What the speech does contain is a sexual metaphor that may unquestionably be offensive to some listeners in some settings. But if an impartial judge puts his or her own views about the metaphor to one side, I simply cannot understand how he or she could conclude that it is embraced by the above quoted rule. At best, the rule is sufficiently ambiguous that without a further explanation or construction it could not advise the reader of the student handbook that the speech would be forbidden.

The Specific Warning by the Teachers

Respondent read his speech to three different teachers before he gave it. Mrs. Irene Hicks told him that she thought the speech “was inappropriate and that he probably should not deliver it.” Steven DeHart told respondent “that this would indeed cause problems in that it would raise eyebrows.” The third teacher, Shawn Madden, did not testify. None of the three suggested that the speech might violate a school rule.

The fact that respondent reviewed the text of his speech with three different teachers before he gave it does indicate that he must have been aware of the possibility that it would provoke an adverse reaction, but the teachers’ responses certainly did not give him any better notice of the likelihood of discipline than did the student handbook itself. In my opinion, therefore, the most difficult question is whether the speech was so obviously offensive that an intelligent high school student must be presumed to have realized that he would be punished for giving it.

Obvious Impropriety

Justice Sutherland taught us that a “nuisance may be merely a right thing in the wrong place—like a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard.” Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. (1926). Vulgar language, like vulgar animals, may be acceptable in some contexts and intolerable in others. Indeed, even ordinary, inoffensive speech may be wholly unacceptable in some settings.

It seems fairly obvious that respondent’s speech would be inappropriate in certain classroom and formal social settings. On the other hand, in a locker room or perhaps in a school corridor the metaphor in the speech might be regarded as rather routine comment. If this be true, and if respondent’s audience consisted almost entirely of young people with whom he conversed on a daily basis, can we—at this distance—confidently assert that he must have known that the school administration would punish him for delivering it?

For three reasons, I think not. First, it seems highly unlikely that he would have decided to deliver the speech if he had known that it would result in his suspension and disqualification from delivering the school commencement address. Second, I believe a strong presumption in favor of free expression should apply whenever an issue of this kind is arguable. Third, because the Court has adopted the policy of applying contemporary community standards in evaluating expression with sexual connotations, the Court should defer to the views of the district and circuit judges who are in a much better position to evaluate this speech than we are.

I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


6 Comments

  1. May for the students age (14) it was innapropiate. I think that if he was warned that his speech was inappropriate he should have stopped. I personally dont see sexual language in his speech, but I think his suspension was justify.

  2. In this case we see the court take a firm stance against lewd content and its lack of protection of the first amendment. In this case the court notes the values of the public school education. This appears to be an indirect way to say that lewd comments lack value. This case makes me think back to 356 where we discussed locker room talk and other acts of sexual assault that become normalized in predominant male settings. Although such things are normalized I began to think that there was room for censorship and regulation of lewd talk to the extent of creating a hostile work environment and creating discomfort for employees/teammates etc.

  3. A student made a sexual innuendo within their speech in support of a student’s candidacy for VP. The court did not deem it inappropriate enough to question the constitutionality of it being free speech. This was affirmed by Tinker v Des Moines case. In my opinion, I think that high school students can be mature enough to make strong statements to prove a point; if it is not targeting a specific group or being misogynistic towards women in its regard, and is not totally obscene, then young adults should be free to speak their minds.

  4. The facts of this case involved a student making a speech supporting the candidacy of his friend for the position of Vice President of the student body. The student who made the speech included an extended sexual metaphor in his speech, which got him a suspension for 2 days for obscene speech. He filed a lawsuit against the school for violating his first amendment right to free speech. The Supreme Court found that vulgar/lewd student speech is not protected in the same way that political student speech was found to be protected in Tinker v. Des Moines. The Court stated that this student speech was not protected because it did not conform to “values of public school education.

  5. There has yet to be a case that has made me giggle as much as this case did, which I suppose goes to prove the point of the school district. The FIRM 7-2 ruling declared that the First Amendment does not restrict public school districts from regulating speech, in the sense that the school was permitted to punish Fraser for giving a speech that had “lewd” speech included. The Court, in this case, made a large distinction from Tinker in which the USSC ruled to protect a political message being spread by public school students, whereas this case dealt with lewdness, something the Court argued was not protected under the First Amendment when in school. Does this classify as a time, place, and manner restriction in that case?

  6. Zain HussainNov 30, 2020
    In this case, a student used a sexual metaphor to promote the candidacy of a friend. He was suspended for 2 days since the school enforced rules prohibiting misconduct. The question is does the 1st amendment prevent a school district from disciplining a student. The SC ruled no in a 5-4 decision since it was appropriate for the school to censor offensive language.
    Reply
    Marian Udoetuk
    Marian UdoetukNov 30, 2020
    This is a case that I think would be overturned or decided differently if brought before the court today. To suspend and discipline children for “obscene” language does not really hold weight when some of the curriculum in school includes harsh topics in reference to TW: sexual assault, suicide, abuse, etc. For a student to not be able to say topics in reference to any of those things, but then go ahead a read about in class later on does not make sense. I also do not see how the description of what fraser said to be categorized under political speech.
    Reply
    Nizar Quafisheh
    Nizar QuafishehNov 30, 2020
    I’m a bit torn on the ruling in this case, as part of me does feel that it can be considered as a limitation of free speech. On the other hand however, I find that this may make students uncomfortable, and there is no escape from the “obscenity” being spewed, thus I can see the court attempting to protect those who are forced to observe this.
    Reply
    Drew Fowler
    Drew FowlerNov 29, 2020
    Here the court sidestepped the precedent created in Tinker v Des Moines, by differentiating between political speech (protected on school grounds) and vulgar/lewd/inappropriate language (not protected). The court stated that this language is not protected because it doesn’t conform to the “values of public school education.”
    Reply
    Matt Springer
    Matt SpringerNov 29, 2020
    In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, Fraser made a speech nominating a fellow student for elective office. In his speech, Fraser used what some observers believed was a graphic sexual metaphor to promote the candidacy of his friend. Bethel High School enforced a rule prohibiting conduct such contact and Fraser was suspended from school for two days.

    The CQ of the case is does the First Amendment prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a high school? In a seven to two ruling, the Court said no. Chief Justice Burger concluded that the First Amendment did not prohibit schools from prohibiting vulgar and lewd speech since such discourse was inconsistent with the “fundamental values of public school education.”
    Reply
    Brittany Tamayo
    Brittany TamayoNov 29, 2020
    I think that in this court case, the Supreme Court had to take a time and place approach. Justice Burger said that this was considered vulgar and lewd speech, which does not align with “fundamental values of public school education.” I think I have to agree with the Supreme Court on this one. While I believe students should be able to express themselves, speech using vulgarities undoubtedly will require punishment, similar to how swearing does.
    Reply
    Haneen Abdelhafez
    Haneen AbdelhafezNov 24, 2020
    I agree with the dissenting opinions, because the court’s ruling enables school officials to punish students for what they consider to be profane and lewd expression. What is considered lewd or disruptive might not be to others. Furthermore, the fact that there was never concrete evidence presented to the court is troubling and major restriction on free expression.
    Reply
    Hannah Ellis
    Hannah EllisNov 21, 2020
    Fraser delivered a speech in front of a school assembly, in which contained a sexual metaphor. As a result, he was suspended. The Supreme Court ruled that suspending Fraser on the content of his speech in this case did not violate the student’s free speech rights. Schools have the right, and the duty, to impose boundaries of socially appropriate behavior.
    Reply
    Jyah Vora
    Jyah VoraNov 19, 2020
    Mathew Fraser was giving a nomination speech before a high school student assembly in Pierce County, Washington. In his speech, Fraser referred to his candidate in a graphic and sexual metaphor. Fraser was suspended for two days. In a 7-2 decision, the SC upheld the decision and Chief Justice Burger explained that public schools had to uphold fundamental values. Not only that, but the court believed Fraser’s speech was a disruption and in essence, school officials were able to regulate speech considered to be ‘vulgar, lewd, and plain offensive.” However, in this case I do not agree with the court’s ruling. Yes the speech was inappropriate, but I feel like there are worse things that teenagers have heard and seen in high school.
    Reply
    Anshu Nidamanuri
    Anshu NidamanuriNov 18, 2020
    I think students should be able to express themselves, making a distinction of public speech outside and inside of school grounds.
    Reply
    Emma Whaley
    Emma WhaleyNov 18, 2020
    In this case, the respondent, Fraser, gave a speech, that contained an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor, in front of an assembly of 600 people. He was subject to disciplinary action following his speech, due to his violation of the school rule that prohibits the use of obscene language in the school. He brought his case to the district court, claiming it violated his first amendment right to free speech, and the court held the sanction violative of free speech and granted him monetary damages and enjoined the school from preventing him from speaking. SCOTUS reverses this decision. They used the aspect of Tinker, that the case DID NOT concern speech that intruded on works of school or the rights of students, as a point of differentiation to Fraser’s speech in front of 600 people. In their opinion, they noted that the fundamental values of a political system, in addition to tolerance of views, must also take into consideration sensibilities of others and fellow students. They made the important point that the freedom to advocate and express these controversial views has to be balanced against the school and society’s interest in teaching students socially appropriate behavior. Therefore, they found that prohibiting vulgar and offensive language in schools is an appropriate function of public schools and that there isn’t any part of the constitution that prohibits states from holding certain expression as inappropriate and subject to sanction and discipline. In the present case, Fraser’s speech was plainly offensive and had a “sexual innuendo”, that is subject to constitutional limits, as recognized in Ginsberg and Board of Education v Pico. These cases display and recognize the concern of parents and the school to protect their children from exposure to sexually explicit, indecent, and lewd speech, as members of a captive audience. Overall, the court reversed the decision in the district court, holding that the first amendment doesn’t prevent school from imposing sanctions on lewd/vulgar speech.
    Reply
    Rama Izar
    Rama IzarNov 17, 2020
    The Court found the speech to be contradictory to the values taught in the school, therefore making it unacceptable. Justice Berger’s explanation for the distinction between Tinker and Fraser was that Fraser was speaking in school to school students, not just the general public; schools teach fundamental values.
    Reply
    Liliana Diaz
    Liliana DiazNov 15, 2020
    Seems like the trend here is that the Court placed a lot of importance on what the content of the speech was.
    Reply
    Yj Hwang
    Yj HwangDec 12, 2019
    I agree with the dissent, teachers were most likely making a fuss even it if was inappropriate from the kids’ ends
    Reply
    Alfredo Navarro
    Alfredo NavarroNov 20, 2019
    I dont agree with the courts decision. Students should be able to utilize their rights regardless if something is deemed lewd. Its a restriction on expression.
    Reply
    Crystal Lopez
    Crystal LopezNov 17, 2019
    The court found that the school’s prohibition for the use of vulgar language was appropriate. Chief Justice Burger distinguished between political speech which the court previously protected in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and the alleged sexual content of Mr. Fraser’s speech. Burger ruled that the First Amendment did not forbid schools from banning vulgar and lewd speech, even if it is not obscene, since such language was inconsistent with the, “fundamental values of public school education.” This is were we see that the results in the Thinker case were slightly modified to include that schools can band expression that goes against the values of the public school education.
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userNov 17, 2019
    Summarizing Justice Sutherland’s point, he basically stated that time, place, and manner play a big role in freedom of speech because what may be okay in one setting would not be okay in another.
    Reply
    Ines Josefina Castaneda
    Ines Josefina CastanedaNov 17, 2019
    In regards to the nature of the speech I am going to have to agree with the ruling on this case. There was really not significant value in the students speech and the words he used were not appropriate and the punishment he received indeed fit his punishment.
    Reply
    Jason Davis
    Jason DavisNov 17, 2019
    I agree that Fraser’s speech held no value and the court made it clear in Tinker that a big factor with them ruling in Tinker’s favor was that he speech was non-disruptive to school. Fraser’s speech was done with the intent on being disruptive and the court considered that when making a decision.
    Reply
    Sylvia Waz
    Sylvia WazNov 17, 2019
    This case was interesting because it made a distinction between adult public discourse and students speech in school. The court seems to be applying a time, place, and manner for lewd speech in schools.
    Reply
    Joseph Strom
    Joseph StromNov 14, 2019
    This case effectively limits Tinker, by placing restrictions on the nature of the speech. This speech certainly wasn’t disruptive, but the content was objectionable. Now there is a gray area that likely isn’t protected of speech in the school setting that could be deemed objectionable if it’s in some way offensive or vulgar.
    Reply
    Marissa Scavelli
    Marissa ScavelliNov 14, 2019
    This case sets the precedent that school officials can punish students for lewd/obscene/profane speech and/or expression. Basically if something is offensive it can be limited in the public school setting. This ruling can be both positive and negative. In a positive light, the Fraser precedent can lead the courts to prohibit the display of offensive symbols like a swastika or confederate flag in a school setting.
    Reply
    Julio Hernandez
    Julio HernandezNov 14, 2019
    Justice Burger Concluded that “the First Amendment did not prohibit schools from prohibiting vulgar and lewd speech since such discourse was inconsistent with the fundamental values of public school education.
    Reply
    Anthony Sikorski
    Anthony SikorskiNov 14, 2019
    Students free speech rights exist, but are limited in the confines of a school. Per this case, any vulgar/sexual speech made by students is not protected.
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userNov 14, 2019
    I think the “material disruption” language constitutes overbreadth. If a teacher says something wrong and a student corrects him or her, that could be construed as a material disruption to the educational process. The term could also be used by teachers or administrators to silence facts or opinions that conflict with their own personal or political views as well.

    The Court also argued that the “material disruption” doctrine is content-neutral. I may have raised this argument before, but in FCC v. League of Women Voters of California, the Court held that a regulation is content-based if it requires law enforcement to examine the content of the speech in question to determine whether a violation has occurred. 468 U.S. 364 (1984). Does a teacher or administrator have to examine the content of speech to determine whether it “materially disrupts the educational process?”

    Unlike noise regulations, yes.
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted user
    Public schools are literally entities of the State. So they are obligated to offer the same extent of Constitutional liberties and protections, such as freedom of speech and due process, that the State itself is obligated to offer.

    Also, why aren’t we prohibiting lawmakers from using speech that “materially disrupts the legislative process?” Why aren’t we prohibiting the President of the United States from using speech that “materially disrupts the executive functions?”

    Public schools should be held to the same standard as other branches of civil service when it comes to showing deference to our Constitutional rights.
    Nov 14, 2019 (edited Nov 14, 2019)•Delete
    Kevin Lyles
    Daniel Garcia
    Daniel GarciaNov 14, 2019
    So when a student gives political speech it is fine, but when the speech contains sexual innuendos it is unprotected? This seems like a pretty significant double standard. In Burger’s opinion, he quotes Tinker and says, “This Court acknowledged in Tinker that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate,” but then quotes some wishy-washy phrase that says, “The role and purpose of the American public school system was well described by two historians, saying ‘public education must prepare pupils for citizenship in the Republic.… It must inculcate the habits and manners of civility as values in themselves conducive to happiness and as indispensable to the practice of self-government in the community and the nation’.” It is upon this foundation that the Court determines, by students delivering sexual speeches, it does not “inculcate the habits and manners of civility,” thus it is unprotected. I don’t know, I just do not like this ruling.
    Reply
    Brooke Saunders
    Brooke SaundersNov 13, 2019
    I think when compared with the Tinker v Des Moines case it shows that if it is a message that the Court or the School Board agrees with then the speech is protected but if the Court finds it offensive that it is inconsistent with “fundamental values of public school education”
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userNov 28, 2017
    A similar situation occurred at the middle school I attended. The school created a competition in which every graduating 8th grader would write a speech, and a panel of teachers would pick out their favorite ten. Those ten went on to present their speeches in front of a panel of teachers, and the panel would narrow it down to a top four. Of those four, two were selected to speak at the graduation ceremony. The requirement of the speech was to pick a “famous” quote, insert it into the speech, and utilize that quote as a guiding theme. One student utilized the quote “happiness is a lot like peeing your pants. Everyone can see it, but only you can feel its warmth”. The student proceeded to describe all of his wonderful middle school experiences in a comedic tone, and how happy he was with his time there. When the student reached the top 4 he was informed that he could either change his quote or face disqualification due to the quote being “too inappropriate”. He refused, and the school did not let him read his speech at the ceremony. I relate this anecdote to the case due to the Court’s final ruling. in Tinker, the court states that “students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate’”. However, this case presents a contradiction to this statement. Fraser cannot freely express himself in his speech, and is punished for it. Rulings like this have allowed schools to create situations in which students DO “shed their rights at the schoolhouse gate”. The attempt at censoring the student’s speech in my middle school or the imposing of mandatory “moments of silence” create an environment where students cannot express themselves as they would outside the school.
    Reply
    Kevin Lyles
    Kevin Lyles
    just wondering if the student’s name is Matthew. If so, will you give the speech in class for us?
    Nov 28, 2017•Edit•Delete
    Kevin Lyles
    Deleted user
    Deleted userNov 28, 2017
    The school rule about disruptive conducts states that “conduct which materially and substantially interferes with the educational process is prohibited, including the use of obscene, profane language or gestures.” It seems there are a couple problems with applying this rule in this case. The school did not show anything that would give support to the idea that the speech interfered with the education process. Also, I’m not sure that this kind of language could be defined as obscene using the Miller Test. The first and third prong do not seem to apply to the student’s speech. The language seems more for comedic effect than to appeal to “prurient interests,” and it also has “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
    Reply
    Christopher Nevarez
    Christopher NevarezNov 27, 2017
    Looking at the content of the speech shows that the school board’s labeling of this as “obscene” was subjective at best. There is little evidence that the students acted any different than they had in previous assemblies which shows that there was no material or substantial disruption to the educational process. I would have ruled the language of the disciplinary rule as too broad. On a side note, Justice Steven’s mention of the importance of settings when it comes to speech seems oddly familiar. Steven’s “locker room talk” defense/explanation sounds a lot like Trump’s defense of the Access Hollywood Tape about 30 years later.
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 27, 2016
    Court’s holding and majority reasoning:

    The school’s policy to suspend Fraser was not a violation of the First Amendment, because the school has the right to respond to “lewd” and “offensive” language, unlike in Tinker v. Des Moines in which the speech had a political message behind it. Bethel School District may discipline vulgar language or gestures to protect minors from being exposed to mature/sexual speech.
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 27, 2016
    Concurring Opinion:

    Justice Brennan says that Fraser’s speech violated the school’s limits and the school’s action was not a violation of the First Amendment.

    Dissenting Opinion:

    Justices Marshall and Stevens essentially determine their decision on the actual disruptiveness of Fraser’s speech. Justice Stevens presents the argument that “One might conclude that respondent should have known that he would be punished for giving this speech on three quite different theories: (1) it violated the “Disruptive Conduct” rule published in the student handbook; (2) he was specifically warned by his teachers; or (3) the impropriety is so obvious that no specific notice was required”.

    Source:https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/478/675/case.html
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 27, 2016
    The “graphic sexual metaphor”:
    “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.”
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 27, 2016
    Argument for Fraser:
    The “graphic sexual metaphor” used by Fraser to promote the candidacy of his friend was protected under his First Amendment constitutional rights (Freedom of Speech).
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 27, 2016
    The significance of this case is that it narrowed the scope of the ruling in Tinker v Des Moines that protected the symbolic speech of grade school students.
    Reply
    Kevin Lyles
    Kevin Lyles
    how does it narrow the scope of Tinker?
    Oct 27, 2016•Edit•Delete
    Deleted user
    Deleted user
    Just as the Miller test limited speech due to obscenity, the Fraser decision determined obscene speech or subtext is unprotected speech for students.
    Oct 28, 2016•Delete
    Kevin Lyles
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 25, 2016
    Team 1

    1. Facts of the case:

    At a school assembly of approximately 600 high school students, Matthew Fraser, a senior at Washington High School, gave a speech nominating his friend for vice president of the school’s student body. In his speech, Fraser used what observers believed was a graphic sexual metaphor to promote the candidacy of his friend. The school enforced a rule prohibiting conduct which “substantially interferes with the educational process… including the use of obscene, profane language and gestures”. Fraser was suspended for two days. He filed a lawsuit against school authorities for violating his first amendment right. The U.S District Court rules in his favor. The School District appealed to U.S Ninth Court of Appeals and was ruled in his favor. The case was then taken to the Supreme Court.
    Reply
    Kevin Lyles
    Kevin LylesOct 22, 2015
    do we have a copy of the text of the speech?
    Reply
    Deleted user
    Deleted user
    Yes, it’s in my attached brief ^^
    Oct 22, 2015•Delete
    Comments above copied from original document
    Kevin Lyles
    Kevin Lyles
    I don’t see it?
    Oct 25, 2016•Edit•Delete
    Kevin Lyles
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 21, 2015
    It is mind-boggling that a case involving a sexual joke stated by a student at a school assembly had to reach the Supreme Court in order to have a common sense ruling. As others have mentioned, Fraser’s speech was patently different than the students’ at Tinker. It served no purpose (such as a political one), and was rightly punished by the school. I am all for making stupid jokes, but it is beyond me to assert that such speech would be protected by the First Amendment within high schools.
    Reply
    Kevin Lyles
    Kevin Lyles
    read Marshall’s dissent
    Oct 22, 2015•Delete
    Comments above copied from original document
    Kevin Lyles
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 21, 2015
    I. Bethel School District No. 403 vs. Fraser
    II. 478 U.S. 675 (1986)
    III. Matthew Fraser, a senior at a Washington high school, gave a class speech nominating his friend for vice-president of the school’s student body. His speech was filled with sexual innuendos prompting disciplinary action from the administrative for violating several school policies against disruptive behavior and the use of vulgar and offensive speech. The school enforced a rule prohibiting conduct which “substantially interferes with the educational process…including the use of obscene, profane language, or gestures.” He was suspended for a couple of days. Fraser filed a lawsuit against the school authorities for violating his 1st Amendment rights. The U.S District court ruled in Fraser’s favor. The school district appealed to the U.S Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and was also in his favor. The case then went to the Supreme Court.
    IV. Does the 1st Amendment prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a high school assembly?
    V. No. (7-2) Against Fraser
    VI. SCOTUS revered the Court of Appeals to reinstate the suspension. Justice Burger explained the difference between Fraser and Tinker. Fraser was speaking in school to school students than just the general public. Schools teach fundamental values. Certain styles of expression were sexually vulgar and were offensive for Fraser’s case. “Surely it is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse…..” Justice Burger. “These words offend for the same reasons that obscenity offends. Their place in the hierarchy of First Amendment values was aptly sketched by Mr. Justice Murphy when he said: such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”
    VII. Concurring opinions:See attachment for rest
    Reply
    Comments above copied from original document
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 21, 2015
    I agree with SCOTUS’ holding and its reversal of the Court of Appeals’ decision in a few respects.

    1) The usage of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District sufficiently, in my opinion, clarified the ruling of Bethel. In Tinker, students’ political speech did not impinge upon the rights of other (minor/underage) students. In Bethel, the student’s political speech was sexually explicit (sure, determining what is explicit regarding sexuality is subjective) and violated the school’s code of conduct regarding vulgarity, effectively crossing the rights of other students to a vulgarity-free environment.

    2) The student was warned about consequences to his actions prior to taking said actions. His due process was not violated.

    3) The student’s political opinion was not punished; the sexual overtones that broke school policy were.
    Reply
    Comments above copied from original document
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 22, 2014
    School, possessing certain state interests and being composed of underage students has different expectations regarding free speech than the general population.
    The school was fully within the right here
    Lucas Woody Stanfield
    Reply
    Comments above copied from original document
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 22, 2014
    The First Amendment does not protect one from being inappropriate in school. The student was warned that his speech was inappropriate and he chose to deliver it anyway. The school had every right to take disciplinary action.
    -Egle S.
    Reply
    Comments above copied from original document
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 22, 2014
    The school maintains the authority to regulate activity in the school. There won’t be any lasting impacts on the life of the individual punished for his actions. -L. Trujillo
    Reply
    Comments above copied from original document
    Deleted user
    Deleted userOct 22, 2014
    From my experience in school, principles and disciplinary advisers are never faculty who understand the complexities of governance or the relationship between governing law and its subjects. It is annoying and frustrating but, at least when they give you a detention or suspension it has no implications for the rest of your life. Although, it would be a much more fruitful learning experience if they entertained student’s versions of things when considering punishment instead of just punishing them, or better yet let student’s rule themselves for a while. I am sure that would yield very interesting discussions.

    G. Bedolla

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