The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government. In the context of public schools, the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to mean that students do not lose their right to free speech 'at the schoolhouse gate.' This protection applies to public schools since they are considered government actors. However, the First Amendment does not apply to private schools in the same way, as they are not government actors.
In Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court held that students do not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they step onto school property. This case established the 'Tinker Test,' which states that school officials may not censor student speech unless it disrupts the educational process or invades the rights of others. The case involved students who wore black armbands to protest the Vietnam War and were suspended. The Court ruled that the students' protest was protected by the First Amendment because it did not cause a substantial disruption. This case is the basis for the principle that student speech is protected in public schools, but it also allows for limitations if the speech disrupts the school environment.
In Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court held that schools may restrict student speech at a school-sponsored event when that speech is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use. The case involved a student who displayed a banner reading 'BONG HiTS 4 JESUS' across the street from his school during a televised Olympic Torch Relay. The Court found that the school officials did not violate the student's First Amendment rights by confiscating the banner and suspending the student. This decision illustrates that while students have free speech rights, there are certain types of speech, such as those promoting illegal activity, that schools may regulate.
In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, the Supreme Court ruled that a public school could discipline a student for giving a lewd speech at a school assembly. The Court distinguished this case from Tinker by noting that the speech in question was vulgar and offensive to many listeners. This decision supports the idea that schools can prohibit certain forms of expression that are considered indecent or inconsistent with the school's basic educational mission. The case demonstrates that the First Amendment rights of students in public schools are not absolute and can be subject to limitations based on the content and context of the speech.
In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court held that public school officials have the authority to censor school-sponsored student expression, such as articles in a school newspaper, if the censorship is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. The case involved a school principal who removed articles from a high school newspaper that he deemed inappropriate. The Court ruled that the school newspaper was not a public forum and that the school had the right to control its content to avoid topics that were unsuitable for younger students or that invaded the privacy of individuals. This decision indicates that student speech in school-sponsored activities can be subject to greater regulation than independent student expression.