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Case Summary for Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser
Summary of First Amendment Holding: The First Amendment did not prevent the School District from disciplining respondent for giving the offensively lewd and indecent speech at the assembly. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 , distinguished. Under the First Amendment, the use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, but it does not follow that the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school. It is a highly appropriate function of public school education to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse.

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 school, and the determination of what manner of speech is inappropriate properly rests with the school board. First Amendment jurisprudence recognizes an interest in protecting minors from exposure to vulgar and offensive spoken language, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 , as well as 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, Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 . Petitioner School District acted entirely within its permissible authority in imposing sanctions upon respondent in response to his offensively lewd and indecent speech, which had no claim to First Amendment protection.

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