Morse v. Frederick
What's at Stake
Whether school officials violated the First Amendment when they suspended a high school student for holding up a sign that the principal interpreted as a pro-drug message when the sign caused no disruption, was displayed at a public event on the public streets, and the student had not yet arrived at school for the day. DECIDED
For forty years, the First Amendment has generally protected the right of students to speak on even controversial topics absent evidence that their speech caused substantial disruption within the school. In this case, a high school senior was suspended for holding up a sign at the Olympic Torch Relay in Juneau, Alaska, before he had even arrived at school for the day. Although there was no evidence of disruption, the school justified its action by claiming that the student’s sign contained a pro-drug message that was inconsistent with the school’s educational mission to discourage drug use. The question presented is whether a school can censor student speech because it disagrees with its message.