Bethel School Distract v. Fraser Mallory Smith

This case deals with freedom of speech for students in a school setting

Matthew Fraser a student at Bethel High School in Pierce County, Washington, delivered a speech nominating a fellow student for a student elective office. During the entire speech, Fraser referred to this candidate to some in a elaborate, graphic and sexual metaphor.

The following speech by Matthew Fraser

"I know a man who is firm -- he's firm in his pants, he's firm in his shirt, his character is firm -- but most . . . of all, his belief in you, the students of Bethel, is firm.

Jeff Kuhlman is a man who takes his point and pounds it in. If necessary, he'll take an issue and nail it to the wall. He doesn't attack things in spurts -- he drives hard, pushing and pushing until finally -- he succeeds.

Jeff is a man who will go to the very end -- even the climax, for each and every one of you.

So vote for Jeff for A. S. B. vice-president -- he'll never come between you and the best our high school can be."

Because of the Speech Fraser was suspended from school for three day and also was kicked of the list of possible graduation speakers. After his father couldn't get this punishment over turned by the school board he filed of suit.

Lower court

In the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. The Respondent stated the school violated the First Amendment. The court decided in favor with Fraser that his rights had been violated and That the school's conduct was unconstitutional and overbroad, and that the removal of respondent's name from the graduation speaker's list violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the disciplinary rule makes no mention of such removal as a possible punishment. The District Court awarded respondent $278 in damages, $12,750 in litigation costs and fees, and enjoined the School District from preventing respondent from speaking at the ceremony. Which he did. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed

Tinker case the school tried to use it as a referents

The supreme court case

Argued: Mar 3, 1986

Decided: Jul 7, 1986

William A. Coats argued the cause for the petitioners

Jeffrey T. Haley argued the cause for the respondents

The Court found that it was appropriate for the school to prohibit the use of vulgar and offensive language. Chief Justice Burger distinguished between political speech which the Court previously protected in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) supposed to the sexual content of Fraser's message. In his opinion Frasers right to freedom of speech was not White, Powell, Rehuguest, and O'Conner JJ., agreed.

One of his last cases

Breanna J.

I find it difficult to believe that it is the same speech the Court describes. To my mind, school officials have to teach high school students how to conduct civil and effective public discourse, and to prevent disruption of school educational activities, it was not unconstitutional for school officials to conclude, under the circumstances of this case, that respondent's remarks exceeded permissible limits.

Marshall, J., Dissenting Opinion

I dissent from the Court's decision, however, because, in my view, the School District failed to demonstrate that respondent's remarks were indeed disruptive. The District Court and Court of Appeals conscientiously applied Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Distract (1969), and concluded that the School District had not demonstrated any disruption of the educational process. I recognize that the school administration must be given wide latitude to determine what forms of conduct are inconsistent with the school's educational mission; nevertheless, where speech is involved, we may not unquestioningly accept a teacher's or administrator's assertion that certain pure speech interfered with education.

Stevens J, dissenting.

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

When I was a high school student, the use of those words in a public forum shocked the Nation. Today Clark Gable's four-letter expletive is less offensive than it was then. Nevertheless, I assume that high school administrators may prohibit the use of that word in classroom discussion and even in extracurricular activities that are sponsored by the school and held on school premises. For I believe a school faculty must regulate the content as well as the style of student speech in carrying out its educational mission. It does seem to me, however, that, if a student is to be punished for using offensive speech, he is entitled to fair notice of the scope of the prohibition and the consequences of its violation


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