Summary of Bethel School District v. Fraser, U.S. Supreme Court (1985)
Petitioner: Bethel School District
Respondent: Fraser; the respondent was a student in Bethel High school and he delivered a speech during a school assembly which was full of sexual metaphors. The respondent was suspended for 2 days and he was prohibited from giving a speech at the graduation. The district court ruled that the school’s disciplinary actions violated respondent’s Fist Amendment Freedom of Speech rights and the Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling.
Issue: Does the First Amendment “prevent a school district from disciplining a high school student for giving a lewd speech at a school assembly.”
Legal Reasoning: The court observed that in its previous case Tinker v. Des Moines, it had ruled that a school cannot punish a student for wearing a red armband if the student wants to express some political message through this armband. But the court stated that in the present case, the conduct of the respondent was more severe and it was the type of conduct which cannot be allowed in a high school. The court stated that it must balance respondent’s constitutional rights and society’s interest in teaching students socially acceptable behavior. The court observed that there were students as young as 14 present at the assembly and the respondent’s speech bewildered many of these minors. So the court ruled that the respondent’s conduct was clearly not appropriate for high school and the school administrators had the right and the duty to punish the respondent for his actions. The ruling of the lower court was reversed.