Supreme Court to rule on legal protections for off-campus student speech

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments March 19 in acase that could determine the right of students to express themselves while inschool and potentially while outside of it.

The case focuses on Juneau,Alaska, student Joseph Frederick, then 18 years old, who held up the sign acrossthe street from Juneau-Douglas High School as the 2002 Winter Olympics torchrelay passed by. High School Principal Deborah Morse crossed the street and tookthe banner from Frederick, giving him a 10-day suspension.

Last month, apolitically diverse group of 23 organizations, including the Student Press LawCenter, filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the U.S. Supreme in support ofFrederick.
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SPLCView: This could be a pivotal case for the future of student speech inAmerica. The Court has been asked to decide just how far public schoolofficials’ authority goes when it comes to controlling or punishing students fortheir private, off-campus speech. At oral arguments, before a packed courtroom,the justices peppered lawyers with questions about whether the Court’s existingTinker standard, which allows school officials to censor school-basedspeech only if it substantially disrupts normal school activities or invades therights of others, was the appropriate standard to apply and, if so, whetherspeech that administrators felt “underminded” the school’s educational missioncould be considered disruptive and thus subject to punishment. Such aninterpretation, if adopted, could give school officials unprecedented authorityover student speech. Thankfully, groups from all sides of the political spectrumand representing varied constituencies have recognized the threat and weighed into warn the Court of the serious danger to free speech the case poses. Adecision is expected by July.