Can Students Claim First Amendment Rights Violations If They Use Vulgar Speech?
In 1983, a Bethel High School student proudly nominated his friend for a student government position and used vulgar language while doing so. Learn what the Supreme Court said about regulating student speech and expression by visiting FirstLiberty.org/Briefing.
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Matthew Fraser was a dedicated friend.
In April of 1983, the Bethel High School student took to the stage of a school assembly to proudly nominate his friend for a student government position. As about 600 high school students listened, he . . . well, perhaps the best way to describe his speech is to quote Justice Burger’s description of it. He wrote,
“Fraser referred to his candidate in terms of an elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor.”
So, the next morning, the school informed Fraser that he had broken the rules and would be appropriately disciplined.
Fraser didn’t like that. He claimed, in a federal lawsuit, that the policy violated his First Amendment rights.
But, the Supreme Court disagreed.
The court explained that, while students retain First Amendment freedoms at school, school officials may still prevent vulgar and lewd speech—like Fraser’s—that undermines the educational mission of the school.
Bethel School District v. Fraser reminds us that school officials can permit student religious speech and expression without losing the ability to regulate vulgar student speech that undermines the educational mission of the school.
School officials who try to censor student religious speech face an uphill battle.
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First Liberty Institute is the largest organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. Find out more here.
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