Bethel School District v Fraser

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


478 U.S. 675

Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT


No. 84-1667 Argued: March 3, 1986 --- Decided: July 7, 1986
 

Held:

1. 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. Pp. 680-686.

2. There is no merit to respondent's contention that the circumstances of his suspension violated due process because he had no way of knowing that the delivery of the speech would subject him to disciplinary sanctions. 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. The school disciplinary rule proscribing "obscene" language and the prespeech admonitions of teachers gave adequate warning to respondent that his lewd speech could subject him to sanctions. P. 686.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 687. BLACKMUN, J. concurred in the result. MARSHALL, J., post, p. 690, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 691, filed dissenting opinions. [p677]

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